Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Croatian Sketchbook

I've been digging through my sketchbooks again, and these drawings brought back memories of island hopping in Croatia in 2003. Although billed as a walking trip, the Adriatic Sea meant that we spent much of our holiday time aboard the brave little Stončica, eating oily fish and sleeping on the deck. Why brave? You'll find out in a moment.

The Stončica had formerly been a ferry, but she was so tiny that I can't see how she could have been very useful in that function. Her open rear deck supported a tent-like awning, and her foredeck was a little covered terrace with a table for meals. She was elderly but spruce, and manned by a crew of three: 'le captaine', his mate Zoran, and the youthful and goatish Goran. There was also a local guide (who slept in a tiny cabin), eight French tourists, and me.

French was the language of the trip, though none of the crew spoke it. But English-speaking entertainment was provided by Goran, whose filthy, multi-lingual tongue darted out whenever 'gurlees' came into view. In London's East End he'd have been called 'cheeky' and 'chipper', but on the Adriatic, with its nudist beaches, he was a seething mass of engine oil and hormones.

Each day would see us arrive in a sandy cove -- or village port -- of some new island. From there we would walk and climb through the hot pine interior to a rendezvous point on the other side. Being taken off the shore by Zoran in a rowing boat and pulled out to where the Stončica waited was 'most agreeable' according to a bland note in my sketchbook. It was indeed – a real Treasure Island touch.

The adventure of it all, however, reached an alarming peak when one morning le capitaine decided to set off from the tiny port of Polače despite a very peculiar sky. Within minutes the weather had turned nasty and then, as we headed out of the bay, everything went white. Some kind of storm (I don't really understand these things) set the Stončica spinning, with nothing visible in the blankness but a few yards of furious sea. Eight French tourists and one Englishman held on very tight. The crew kept their heads but I distinctly remember the look of terror on Goran's face, the 'gurlees' briefly forgotten. Somehow le capitaine got us back into port, soaked and missing many of our possessions, but safe. I lost my hat, but at least my sketchbook was dry (no Turner moment for me). We heard later that another craft had been sunk in the same freak storm. Thank you, brave little Stončica.

In one short, hot week we climbed the heights of Korčula, explored the renaissance ways of its ancient port, crossed Vernika, Mijet and a dozen smaller islands whose names esčape me (one so small that the restaurant on it was completely surrounded by water), and eventually arrived in the beautiful city of Dubrovnik in time for the medieval festival. And this was a poignant moment, for beneath the capering felt slippers and sackbuts, the marble streets were still shattered from the Balkan War.

This is one holiday I would dearly love to go on again, but emphatically not with serious walkers. What is it with people who walk just for walking's sake, and who resent lingering at a Byzantine ruin or in sylvan clearings because it wastes valuable walking time? Next time I'll go with fellow sketchers, go for longer and take colour. And next time I'll remember to draw Goran.


  1. What a beautiful tale! And sketches to go with it!

  2. Your last paragraph creased me! "Serious walkers", that says it all!

    Your line drawings are so alive, really vibrant. I'd love to eat my picnic beneath that tree, then walk up the narrow street between those houses to the courtyard I imagine is hiding behind. I think I'd skip the boat altogether though! You have sketchbooks full of great stories by the sounds of it.

  3. Save me from serious walkers! hiking boots, thick socks and a map on a noose round the neck, and if you are really unlucky, Janet Street-Porter at the head!

  4. Many thanks Anita, and thanks for the compliments, Rachel -- The view the other way was across the sea to the mainland so yes, it would have been a great place for a picnic. Croatia is a beautiful country and the best way to see it is by sea, so I hope Goran and the storm don't put you off visiting it one day.

    Thanks, Mum, for commenting too. as I wrote this I remembered your recent experience with serious walkers and would love to hear you blog about your and Kit's comic day out. The best thing to say to the walk-till-you-die-with-blood-in-your-boots brigade is 'you go on ahead and put the kettle on/open the bottle'.

  5. Just followed a link from your Mum's blog and have had a lovely time reading through your recent posts. Love the drawings of your children!

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Gina. More drawings of children to come, I'm sure.

  7. Thanks Thomas, I had an unexpected chuckle. The best kind !

  8. i've just dropped by from Nicoa's Bogoffee - I've never been to Croatia, but your beautiful sketches are very enticing - somehow they feel more real than photos - too many of those in holiday brochures are a let-down.
    I understand your aversion to proper walkers, I've got a foot in both camps - one with a walking boot and thick socks, the other one bare, and ready for doing nothing but admiring the countryside.

  9. Hi, Hilary. I'm always glad to make you smile:)

    Thanks for commenting, Christine. Croatia is a beautiful country -- I hope you get to visit it one day, with or without your boots.


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