Or Hrvatska as they prefer to call it here. For some reason they find it easier to pronounce than Croatia!
While trying to plan our onward route last night we realised that what the Balkans really lack are vowels. What a wonderful gift we could offer to our host nations! Fortunately we'd bought a huge, vacuum-packed supply of them with us as they are quite weightless, take up no space in Modestine and one never knows when a few vowels might come in handy. Take Krk where we are staying for example. With just a vowel or two it would be so much easier to pronounce - Kroak, Kork, Krak, Kreek. We have deposited enough vowels at the town hall here to be distributed to everyone, and are leaving it to the locals to make the finer adjustments of pronunciation.
It has rained continuously all day, which is a great shame as we have passed through some stunning scenery but have seen very little. Our route took us along winding, badly metalled, steep and twisting roads up into the pine clad mountains and through tiny isolated villages of just a few houses. The mist hung low over the hills and the roads were slippery after two months without rain. At one point, as we twisted steeply down, Modestine's wheels locked on a hairpin bend when she skidded slightly on the accumulated wet gravel at the edge of the road. It was a frightening experience but a salutary warning. Fortunately what traffic we did encounter was driving equally gingerly. There are endless forests in the hinterland of Slovenia and Croatia and they are well managed. Huge trucks transport the felled timber up and down the steep, frequently unfenced, flooded roads, negotiating one hairpin bend after another. Our progress has been very slow but at least it allowed us ample time to distribute our largess of vowels to the natives of Vrh, Trsce, Crni and Mrzla as we passed through.
At the border into Croatia we had to go through two lots of customs controls and for some reason, on this deserted, empty little road in the middle of the forest, both the Slovenian and Croatian border guards found it curious that two retired British librarians in a minute camping car laden with bicycles and vowels should be passing through. Both took our passports off to be examined but returned them with happy smiles and wished us a safe journey in the most lovely sounding English. We handed them a few extra vowels to help with their pronunciation and crossed into Croatia, where they definitely do not yet have the euro, using kuna instead.
After a lunchtime picnic by a little mountain reservoir in the rain we finally came down out of the mountains to the coast at the island of Krk. We had originally intended following the coast of the mainland down towards Split, but our maps and guidebooks indicated that there were even less campsites than vowels along this stretch of the coast. The only ones we could find were on the islands, so we have decided to travel down by island hopping instead. The roads look less twisty this way and some German people we spoke to tell us ferries are cheap and easy. Hopefully you have all got your atlases out so you will see that there are many long, thin islands off mainland Croatia. No doubt they are stunningly beautiful when the sun shines, and we are praying it will do so tomorrow because so far we've seen nothing at all of the island we are currently on.
We came down from the mountains and almost before we realised what was happening we were on the bridge that links Krk to the mainland. It was only as we reached the toll booth we realised we'd got no kunas as we'd passed nowhere remotely likely to have a cash machine! "Please let us through, we're on a mercy mission from Xtr with a cargo of donated "E"s to be distributed to the afflicted residents of Krk!" Although this didn't actually work, they did accept our proffered 5 euro note and give us six kunas change. So we still don't know what they're worth but think there are around 11 to the pound.
Once on the island lightening began to flash, thunder rumbled and the rain slashed down. Impossible to see anything but the road of broken tarmac ahead, under a river of water. The nearest campsite was still 26 kilometres away at the farthest tip of the island and every time we passed a vehicle coming in the opposite direction so much water hit the windscreen we could see nothing at all! Eventually though we found this campsite above the tiny seaside town of Krk. We seem to be almost the only people here. The lovely man running the site eagerly agreed to our suggestion that we leave him a few vowels as surety until we can get some money tomorrow. His eyes shown with joy as we handed him an I.O.U. and we may have trouble getting them back again when we finally pay our bill!
He is a very friendly man and speaks four other languages besides his own! In Britain if you can do that you wear a mortar board and gown, and live in an ivory tower. Here you wear a large green romper suit and push a wheelbarrow around a campsite. The site overlooks the sea and the old town. It is on sandy, rocky soil that reminds us of Greece. There are olive trees, vines, figs and cherry trees scattered around the site.
It's been impossible to do anything this evening but hole up in Modestine with maps, guide books, another dvd and a bottle of wine while the rain thundered endlessly on the roof. It's now gone quiet so with luck we will see something of the island tomorrow.
Apparently there has been no rain here for two months and it is badly needed. Those of you who followed our previous blog will remember our unwelcome travelling companion Rain, who loyally accompanied us to all eighteen countries. So far on this trip he has been absent, but today we moved into our nineteenth country. Loyal as ever, he immediately returned, so all we can do is accept him and make the best of it.
Saturday 5th May 2007, Kreek, Croatia
As you see from today's address, Exeter's donation of "E"s has not only been received with gratitude by the local populace, but following an overnight emergency meeting of the town council, they are already in use and Krk will henceforth be known as Kreek!
We have spent a really happy day here. It's a pretty, lively little town with a fishing port just outside the city walls where visitors stroll or sit beneath the pine trees and tamarisks beside the blooming Mexican orange bushes eating ices as they watch the fishermen sorting their catch of the day. The clear water is a beautifully deep turquoise while on the horizon can be seen the outline of other islands. Behind the town rise the grey-green hills - a rather arid landscape typical of the east Mediterranean. With the narrow cobbled passageways within the old walled town, the many tiny cats hanging around the cafés and boats for scraps and the flowering shrubs and cactuses along the sea shore the island reminds us forcibly of Greece.
After the difficulties we have experienced accessing the internet in Italy we were spoilt for choice here. There were no complex forms to complete, no need to show our passports and the cost was very reasonable. The machines worked as they should and within seconds we'd managed to successfully transmit our blog for Verona that we have tried to send at least four times from Italy! So delighted were we that we spent a couple of hours sorting out an accumulated backlog of internet queries and emails. We had a great sense of achievement as we left. Internet is probably the most amazing and the most frustrating thing we have contended with during our travels.
So far the season has not really started here yet. There are several coach tours and guides taking groups of mainly Germans around but there are far more restaurants and waterside bars than there are visitors to use them. There is a tiny cathedral, a 14th century castle at the water's edge, and several Roman remains, chiefly tablets with inscriptions that have been built into the medieval town walls. The most important is a fourth century tablet referring to the town as "civitas Curictarum" - so there used to be vowels here in the past.
When we arrived last night we almost went into a different campsite but realised, just in time, that FKK was not just another Croatian word without vowels but stood for Freie Körper-Kultur and meant it was for nudists! As it was pouring with rain and the temperature was only 10 degrees we'd probably have been able to keep our clothes on anyway but today the sun came out. We've decided to call such sites KFC (Krispy Fried Campers?), because the residents lie on the beach all day getting evenly cooked all over.
As we walked around the far side of the harbour we encountered a deep gully where a new drain was being dug. To one side was an entire stack of newly minted manhole covers ready to be installed! Such a rare sight sent Ian into a frenzy of delight. Knowing how fascinated everyone has become in manholes we thought you may care to see these for yourselves!
Our plan to island hop has been scuppered. We asked in the tourist office for the ferry times to the neighbouring island of Rab, only to be told that it wouldn't start running for another month! So tomorrow we must return to the mainland and follow the twisting mountain coastal route down towards Split instead and there are no campsites along the way. Some German people staying nearby have told us of one campsite on the route but it's a very long drive.
A little further down the coast from here is Dalmatia and we have just seen our first Dalmatian! He was big and white with black spots. We got chatting with the lady in the bookshop where they have Winnie the Pooh and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in translation. We asked if they had Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmations as well. Apparently they do and it is very popular!
Ian has just been looking at the map (again!) He declares us to be over 2,000 kilometres from home – as the Croatian flies.
Time for bed I think, this blog is getting trivial.