The following is an installment in a multi-part travel series. Other installments can be found by clicking here.
Friday afternoon found me sunning myself on a rocky beach in Vinjerac, a tiny harbor town on the Adriatic Coast. To my forefront, the water sparkled a deep turquoise. Above me, the sky was a vast expanse of clear blue, and behind me stood an array of both ancient and modern buildings nestled in the foothills of a low mountain range.
Waves lapped against the shore rhythmically, soothing me into a half-wake, half-sleep state. I allowed myself to doze off, only to be awoken by the sound of two children splashing around in the water.
They must be freezing, I thought to myself. But if they were uncomfortable, one couldn’t tell by looking at them. Both were laughing and shouting in Croatian, seemingly oblivious to the chilly temperature of the seawater.
After a few minutes, they swam to shore, wrapped themselves in towels, and strolled away from the beach.
I stood up from my beach towel and tiptoed to the shoreline, watching my step in order to avoid cutting the tender bottoms of my feet on the rocks that lined the shore. I dipped my hands into the water and recoiled them quickly.
Ice cold, I thought to myself, shaking my head. But how can I possibly spend a week on the Adriatic and not go in at least once?
I pondered my own question, standing up and putting my hands to my hips. Oh, well . . . I don’t have to make any decisions right this second.
I returned to my beach towel with my belly and face to the sun, letting myself doze off again. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that the tide had risen slightly.
In my peripheral vision, I could see my husband Jeff’s figure walking towards me.
“Hi,” he greeted. “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” I replied. “I’m getting my daily dose of Vitamin D.”
“No swimming today?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “The water is too cold.”
“I’ve never known you to be such a pansy,” he told me with a chuckle.
“Yeah, right,” I replied. “I dare you to get in that water.”
“Maybe later,” he said. “I was hoping to grab a bite to eat somewhere first.”
“I’ll come with you.”
I stood up and shook off my towel.
We strolled through the village in search of either a restaurant or a market: basically, anyplace that might have food for purchase. Having driven several hours along windy coastal highways this morning, we hadn’t eaten anything today save for a small bag of potato chips which we’d brought along for the ride.
Our travel guide had led us to believe that Vinjerac was just outside of Zadar, one of the major cities on our travel itinerary. However, once we’d arrived in the tiny coastal village earlier today, we quickly realized that we were far from civilization. The roads here weren’t even marked, and there seemed to be more seagulls than people. Nevertheless, it was a pretty town with whitewashed buildings and undeniable natural beauty.
“I love it here,” I told Jeff. “It’s a nice change from what we’ve seen up to this point. Besides, we can drive into Zadar tomorrow.”
He didn’t reply. I sensed that he was growing increasingly irritated by the rumble in his belly.
We happened upon a cafe that served espresso and beer . . . but no food. Two doors down, another restaurant stood with its doors closed and shades drawn. Scanning the perimeter from left to right, there were no other restaurants or markets in sight.
Resigned, the two of us walked a few blocks back to the hotel.
“Excuse me,” I said to the lady at the front desk. “Is there someplace where one might eat around here?”
“There’s a restaurant not too far away,” she replied. “It’s very nice, but they probably don’t open until later.”
“Okay,” I said. “How about a food market of some sort?”
“Yes,” she said, “The blue building down the street sells produce until four p.m.”
“Hvala,” I replied.
Jeff and I found the blue building to which the lady was referring but (like all the other buildings in this town) it was unmarked. There were two entrances, only one of which was open. Peering inside, however, the place seemed to be empty.
“She said the blue building, right?” I asked Jeff, wondering if perhaps my hunger had affected my memory.
“Yes,” he replied. “But maybe it’s closed today. Let’s try to find that restaurant she mentioned.”
We walked a few blocks in the opposite direction until we found Vinjerac’s only other restaurant. It was a one-story white stucco building with a patio in front, where a half-dozen cherrywood tables sat underneath a large striped awning. Potted plants lined a low wall that overlooked the seaside below and — just beyond it — the other side of town.
We approached the restaurant’s entrance, only to find it locked. However, we could see two women scurrying about inside — both in white chef’s uniforms. One of them spotted us and opened the door.
She said something in Croatian, and — in response — Jeff and I looked at her helplessly.
“You speak English?” Jeff asked with a pleading tone in his voice.
“Little,” the lady replied with a heavy accent. “I speak some German, though. You speak German?”
“No,” he replied. I looked over at Jeff and stifled a laugh. In desperation, he had proceeded to pantomime in order to attempt communication. Currently, he was making a motion as if to scoop food into his mouth using an invisible utensil. His message was clear in any language: that is, “I’m hungry!”
The lady smiled and brought us to a table.
She handed us two menus and instructed, “You wait, please.”
We heard churchbells ringing on the other side of town. From where we were seated on the patio, we had a view of the town’s only place of worship.
“There must be a funeral today,” I said, observing a long procession of people dressed in black pour through the doors of the church.
About 10 minutes later, a stocky twenty-something woman with brown hair and a pretty face raced over to our table breathlessly.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” she said in perfect English. “I was at a funeral.”
“So sorry to hear that,” Jeff and I replied in unison.
“May I bring you some drinks?” she asked.
“Yes, please,” I replied. “A bottled water would be great.”
“Sparkling or still?”
“And I’ll have a beer,” Jeff replied.
The server brought our drinks and took our order immediately afterwards. I’d
chosen a green salad to start, followed by a main course of seafood pasta. Jeff chose a plate of Pag cheese along with a lobster dish.
My jaw dropped open when, a few minutes after placing my order, I watched one of the chefs walk to a garden plot next door, pull up a head of lettuce, place it into a bowl, and head back towards the restaurant’s kitchen.
“Now, that’s a fresh salad,” I said.
The food was brought out to us twenty minutes later. The presentation of the dishes was exquisite, and the best part was that the food tasted even better than it looked.
“Any dessert?” the server asked after we had finished.
“No, thank you,” we replied in unison. “We’re stuffed.”
“Time for a nice walk, eh?” she asked with a chuckle.
We thanked her as she cleared the plates from our table. We took care of our bill and walked back towards our hotel. The sun had lowered on the horizon, giving the sky and reflecting waters an orange glow.
Just before sunset, I finally mustered up the courage to take a dip into the Adriatic. Walking slowly along the dock leading to the water, I jumped in,and felt the immediate sting of freezing cold water prickle every square inch of my flesh. Swimming twenty feet beyond the dock, I pivoted around and swam back to the dock, where Jeff was waiting for me with a beach towel in hand.
He didn’t need to ask me how the water was; he could tell simply by the shocked expression on my face.
“Your lips are blue,” he noted.
“I feel like I just took the Polar Plunge,” I replied. “What were we thinking coming to Croatia in early May?”
We strolled hand-in-hand back to our hotel, where I proceeded to take the longest, hottest shower of my entire life.
Vinjerac, as viewed from some of the surrounding mountains
Our hotel was the second building from the right
The view from our hotel window
Pag cheese, one of Croatia’s most delightful epicurean treasures
My dinner, which was entirely worth the wait