Friday

6th Aug 2021

Candide in Croatia – ending a journey along the Adriatic Coast

  • A view across the rooftops in Dubrovnik (Photo: Dan Alexe)

At the end of a 15-day long trip along the Croat Adriatic coast, down from Rovinj to Dubrovnik, in which I traveled incognito, using alternatively both my Belgian and my Romanian identities, I am now writing a few words about the trip as a whole.

The Croatian paper Jutarnji List wanted me to sample everything, to taste the local specialities and hospitality and, most of all, to be ruthless if I find that part of Croatia's reputation for high quality tourism is overdone, or unmerited. Well, ruthless I was, to the despair of many, certainly brave, people whom I met!

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I haven't written too much about the actual beauty of everything that I have seen and visited. People in Croatia are much too used to the ecstatic reaction of the tourists brandishing their travel guides. I avoided looking in these tourist books, which can totally ruin the pleasure by the flat, pretentious language that they use. Why is it that all travel literature has to be so bombastic? The mountains are always "rugged", coastlines "stunning", and the villages "picturesque".

Inevitably, one reads about a "dramatic sea cliff", "tumbling waterfalls" and "gurgling rapids". Why is it that we cannot invent new words to render the new quality of each new day? But a systematically ecstatic, step-by-step description of my trip wouldn't have been of much interest to readers, so I focused more on my personal interaction with the environment.

All in all, I would be happy if I contributed to the Croats' awareness that tourists are also human beings. Also, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could travel everywhere without a prearranged reservation. All along the Adriatic coast, I was always able to get a place, sometimes very expensive, sometimes surprisingly cheap, and found staff in the tourist accommodation agencies extremely friendly and helpful (in many languages).

I must say also that, in spite of one of the initial intentions behind this trip, I wasn't really treated differently using my Belgian or Romanian identities. I suppose the people who work in tourism have become used to Westerners being stingy and Eastern Europeans splashing around money that the nationality of the visitor doesn't really count as much as it did 20 years ago.

So, a final evaluation: is Croatia amazingly beautiful? Yes, it is!... Is the food great? Yes, it mostly is, although I also found myself disappointed in places flooded by tourists, like Dubrovnik. Everywhere on the coast, they make excellent cappucini. Everywhere, they know how to cook rice al dente, in soups and risottos. Sometimes, people were burly and unsmiling, yes, but I suppose one can say that at the same time they come with a big soul. At times they act as if tourism should function by itself, and as if the magnificent climate was only inflicted upon them against their will. But Croatia is a democratic "low key culture," and some of the misunderstandings in dealing with foreigners may stem from this.

Among all the places I visited, Rovinj and Split stand out, but that's a matter of personal taste. Rovinj was at the same time the only spot where I saw some "gypsies get out of here" graffiti that nobody seemed to want to bother to wipe off. Everywhere I loved the delicious pizza cuts at one euro apiece. In many respects, when it comes to food, Croatia is on a par with Italy. I was also pleasantly surprised to find free internet practically everywhere in the North, especially in Rovinj, Pula, and Rijeka, where opening the computer at a terrace or on a park bench is no hindrance to writing and sending articles.

My model for a traveller is Voltaire's Candide. In Croatia, I always had my eyes wide open to whatever I saw, but, at the same time, I didn't want to allow myself to be overwhelmed, although sometimes this required an effort. As to the question: would I go back again? The answer is: Yes, anytime!... This is a country made for Candides!...

This is the fourth and final installment of Dan Alexe's Croatian travelogue. The previous articles appeared on 29 July, 6 August and 20 August.

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