Tuesday, September 30, 2014

9/21/14 Day 248 Hvar Town versus Stari Grad

If we must spend an entire day on this beautiful island, we might as well get ourselves over to Hvar town and do as the tourists do, stand in the way, crowd the beaches, rent anything that goes and eat out every meal. We started out correctly by renting a moped, but we did it sort of wrong because we rented from Stari grad and instantly saved ourselves 100 kuna by not renting from the tourist zone where scooters go for 250 Kunas a day. We then drove the 20 kilometers scenic stretch to the south side of the island where we beached ourselves like whales and soaked up as much sun as we could endure. We met up with Casey and Dan who we had sent off to enjoy Hvar while we stayed in Stari Grad to deal with the car. They recommended their hostel, Dink's Place and Kevin slyly booked one bed for 90 Kunas (the most expense we have paid for accomodation this entire trip) and after that was sorted we went out for a calamari dinner with the boys. We found some decent beers to sip on in the harbor before heading back to our hostel for the night, 2 for the price of one. 

On the other side of the island, Stari Grad is where we spent 3 days waiting for the insensitive mechanic at Auto Rudan. Besides him, everyone we talked to was sincere, and sweet and incredibly hospitable and welcoming during our stay. The local bike and scooter rental shop let us use his tools on two different panicked occasions, anything we needed no problems and he rented us a scooter for 100 less than tourist rates of Hvar town, and even let us keep it for 24 hours instead of the usual shop open-shop close and even at that, the time it was due back was flexible. As for the two cafés we spent an adequate amount of time in both of them made us feel very welcome, Il Teatrino, our favorite wine bar even told us to come back and pay later when we had no small bills to cover our espresso, so much trust and credit, a truly unfamiliar feeling in a would-be touristy resort town. The food was better, and cheaper, and the menus didn't come in the typical 5 language tourist borchures. Not to mention, the beaches are actually nicer in Stari Grad, there are sand beaches where Hvar town is composed of all rocky beaches and half of them are privately owned and inaccessible. 

If we were to go back we would probably just go to a different one of the thousands is islands on offer in Croatia, but if we did for some reason return to Hvar island Stari Grad is definitely on the itinerary, plus it has a great name!

Stari Grad alleys to get lost among

Beautiful little restaurant terrace overlooking the city

Wine at Il Teatrino, cozy harbor front wine bar
Stari Grad harbor

Camping just outside of the city
Awesome bike and scooter rental shop
Poly, sitting and waiting for days on end at Auto Rudan
Our day trip to Hvar Town

Similar adorable cobbled streets, but instead of locals they are crowded with tourists rushing to buy luxury jewelry and clothes and anything that implies Hvar

Hvar beach, note that they are mostly cement walkways

Pomegranates growing everywhere! We do our part by foraging often
The Hvar Helipad
Paklinski islands, the only benefit Hvar holds over Stari Grad, his nearby beautiful island chain
Honeybees up in the nearby hills 
The one thing that. Hvar town has over Stari Grad, the proximity to the Paleniki islands
If you take the old slower and more scenic route back, you come across a huge garbage dump that smells terrible, I bet they left that out of the tourist brochure 

Dinner in Hvar, overpriced but delicious

9/24/14 Day 251 Our Quasi Failed trip to Bosnia

Finally we are leaving Hvar island! It has been four days since Poly broke down and we have been stuck in Stari Grad waiting for her repair, but we are getting on the road and catching the 9:45 ferry from Sucuraj to Drvenik. It is a 90 minute drive across the entirety of this 80 kilometer long, 5 kilometer wide portion of the island. With every steep snake and bend we watch as the secluded coves trail behind us. We line up ready to drive onto the ferry and I hand over the ticket we purchased (with only one of our four passengers actually financially accounted for) with a smile and we are waved aboard the ticket barely glanced at. Another 35 minutes and we are back on the mainland of Croatia, if you can call this archipelago of a country that. The anxiety grows as we near the border to Bosnia our gateway to Kravice Falls, and Mostar. We have learned over the last 24 hours that many car insurance companies do not cover the country and so therefore you are required to have a green slip that documents that you are covered, if not you can buy your Bosnia insurance at the border. We do not have a green slip as our car insurance liability is a grey area, and therefore we do not really have the grounds to buy additional insurance either. Sure enough as fast as we pull up to the border control at Metković we are spit right back out and turned around back to Croatia, we attempt to explain that in Ireland (where we bought the car) it is not required to retain the registration in the car, but his English is at best an intermediate level and he is having nothing of it without our proper paperwork. With plan B already set in motion we head towards Dubrovnik in southernmost Croatia. In order to get there you need to pass through a 9.5 kilometer corridor of Bosnia, it is the only span of the country that touches the sea and requires 4 border checks before you are back on Croatian turf again. We pull up to the first border, the Croatian inspectors and they don't even have a chance to ask us where we are going before they insist that we pull into a spot to be searched. They insist that all four of us step out of the car and we watch hysterically as they pull out all of our things out of our backpacks. If you could only imagine the stuff that we have collected in our car over the last three months, some of my favorite items include; Kevin's Kendama, a Japanese ball and cup toy (I think they thought it was a weapon?!), watching them sniff my henna powder I got in Morocco, it is an olive colored powder that you add water to and can paint henna tattoos, they were really concerned about our generic decongestion pills, "what brand!" ummm Target maybe haha, the best one of all though is when they found the little pink pills in Dan's bag "what is this" Dan replied, Pepto Bismol "what for?!" Obviously Dan practically broke out into song "nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach diarrhea" We couldn't even handle it, so funny! It was pretty shortly after this that they decided we probably were not smuggling huge quantities of cigarettes or alcohol, just the homemade brandy a host gave us, a few beers and the pack of cigarettes Dan purchased earlier that day. With that, they let us go through, also stating that they would call ahead to the next border to inform them we had been thoroughly checked. Successfully into Bosnia we decided to quickly zip over to Kravice Lakes and at least see them before cruising through the remaining two borders. The day was hot and we were so looking forward to a swim in our third attempt at visiting a cascading lake park, upon arrival they too like Plitvice and Krka were flooded, no lake break for us! After a short visit we headed back through dreary, desolate, and depleted Bosnia, a country not even two decades past war with haunting reminders in the bullet hole filled signs and pot hole covered roads. If only we could have more thoroughly explored this country, it's a beautiful place, less mangled by tourisms grasp, but for us it will have to be another adventure, when the border guards are not waiting for us! Arriving back at the Neum border just four hours after we had crossed through we headed straight for the Southern crossing. We are nodded through the first border check, from the Bosnian's and then when we pull to a stop for the Croatians they kindly motion for us to pull over to a spot where we can be thoroughly checked for all of the large quantities of drugs and things that go boom that are clearly stashed within our right hand drive, sticker plastered car. The four of us start giggling to ourselves, are they serious!? We explain that we spent hours being searched at the border just a short 9.5 kilometers away and the only reply they can come up with, "they found nothing?" Of course they found nothing, there is nothing to find! Can we be on our way now? After a short few minutes of deliberation they actually wave us through, thankful we do not have to buy any supplemental insurance, or be strip searched we beeline it for Dubrovnik. 

Teeny tiny sliver of coastal Bosnia, with Croatian lands bordering both sides
Plan B success

The currency they use is a Marka, and it is 1 Marka to .6$ so 2.31/liter is only 1.51$ per liter or 5.71$ per gallon, which in this part of the world is a steal of a deal, cheapest gas we have seen thus far on our trip

When we got to Kravice Falls, it was flooded
Still beautiful
But freezing cold
And not swimmable 
Everything from garbage bins, to benches to boardwalks were submerged
So instead of swimming as planned we relaxed on the upper balcony of the restaurant and enjoyed the view

Back to Croatia for Poly and us

9/20/14 Day 247 Pushing Poly over the edge on Hvar Island

We drove with haste the two hours to Drvenik where the ferry would whisk us away to Hvar, we barely made it, being the third from the last they scooted Poly into the very corner of the ferry and in no time we were maneuvering her out onto the island. The very first cove that Kevin had found through Google satellite maps turned out to be a steep, scree covered and jagged descent to a solitary cove with just one German couple and their VW Transporter Synchros van basking in the nude. We spent some time admiring the blue waters and black spiny urchins before it was time to head for the next beach. Now the task of getting back up the hill. Kevin, Casey, Dan and I awaited eagerly for Poly to climb the hill, but when she just wasn't having any of it we climbed out and awaited her to ascend with just Kevin, still nothing, at this point we are beginning to realize something is definitely wrong. By the time the German couple offered to help pull us up the hill with their Synchros van our car is barely turning 
over :-( they tow us to the top and what's more insist on towing us all the way to Stari Grad 80 kilometers away on a beautifully windy hilly road and it was getting dark! They would take no repayment of even gas money for this huge favor they did for us. It absolutely blows my mind the generosity we continue to receive day in and day out of our travels, so much good karma! We sent Dan and Casey off to enjoy Hvar city on the other side of the island while we camped out to wait for the first tick of the work day clock the next morning. At 8:00 we were first in the door at the auto parts store. Super luckily for us the guy working at the shop keeps fuel pump relay switches In stock because his car has the same problem, this could be the answer to all of our woes! He also suggested that hitting it with a wrench usually does the trick. Back at the doorstep of Gale Auto just an hour later bummed and baffled, not even the wrench could fashion a fix. So our next step is to wait for the auto mechanic at nearby Rudan auto to show up for work. Apparently not much of an early riser we went out for an espresso and waited for a more fashionable hour to walk into his workshop where we were not acknowledged for 5 minutes while he silently put away his tools, he finally looked up at us standing in his tools end sized workshop while Kevin started spilling all of the details. No reply, except to ask where the car was, he then walked to his car, and assuming we were invited we jumped into the passenger seats. After thirty minutes of tinkering with less than a dozen words exchanged and no solution, except that the car needs to be towed to the shop, a small 200 kuna tow, for 2 kilometers! No thanks we will keep those 30€ and find a way to get the car there. Since the business was obviously not his, he sympathized because 200 is a lot of money for such a short distance and he left to try to find a tow rope, (our car is so small almost anything can tow it). When he still hadn't returned three hours later we took matters into our own hands and were about to push Poly the 2 kilometers to the shop when a Range Rover carrying two Germans pulled up next to us, I politely asked if they would be able to do us a huge favor and tow us to save us a few hours of really difficult work and in no time we were parked in front of Auto Rudan, listening to him explain to us over the phone that he had gone home for the day, and it being Saturday wouldn't be back until Monday. *He could have at least told us that he was done for the day instead of leaving us waiting 4+ hours for him to return with a tow rope at this point! We would have Loved to have gotten the car towed hours earlier and spent our afternoon at the beach. Apparently consideration isn't really in his nature though as we come to learn.* We agree to meet him first thing Monday morning so we can get off of Hvar Island. We arrive a bit later than we had hoped Monday morning, 10:00 instead of 9:30 and he is under another car changing brake pads and a wheel bearing, surely he would be with us in no time after all we had an appointment. We patiently waited in our car 2.5 hours while he barely gave us so much as a nod. He finally finished what he was doing around 12:30 and began to focus on Poly...*would it seriously have been that hard for him to say oh I am going to be awhile why don't you grab a coffee and come back at noon* A quick hour later and a new fuel pump is on order all scheduled for our third appointment with Auto Rudan at 5:00 the following day when the part would arrive. Fast-forward to 5:30 when Kevin, tired of waiting around for this flaky mechanic makes his way to the auto part shop and calls the mechanic who without even apologizing offers to show up around 7:30 because he is on the opposite side of the 100 km long island (this is the breaking point we have spent the entire weekend waiting on him) so Kevin buys the part (which happened to be wrong, but could be jerry-rigged to fit well enough) and installs it before sunset and we are off, without a dime going to the ridiculous and time insensitive mechanic. Long story short auto Gale was a complete waste of our time, luckily Kevin is a jack of all trades and can fix anything!

Ferry terminal at Drvenik

A stowaway on board
Arriving at Sucuraj
The beautiful beach that almost ended our amazing car

Getting towed for 80 kilometers on crazy curvy roads, I thought our brakes would burn out for sure
Ahhhhh the Synchros, the German man put it well "Synchros goes up everything"