What to do when your job’s a pain, your social life is stunted and there’s a pandemic running rampant around the world? Go on holiday of course. Just to “get away from it all”. Unfortunately there’s no getting away from the pandemic, but that didn’t stop my friend Pascal and me boarding a flight to Croatia last week. Flying anywhere right now is a gamble but seeing that travelling is my raison d’être I had to do it at least once more this year. We chose Croatia because it had a pretty low case rate at the time (it ranked about 30th in Europe for number of cases) but as luck would have it, from the day we booked it, cases quickly increased. This led to the decision to introduce a mandatory 14 day quarantine for travellers returning to the UK from Croatia that got put in effect just before we went. Classic.
Pascal and I have been friends since we met in university halls in 2011. Since then we’ve been fellow housemates, confidantes, revellers and travellers, although we never managed to go abroad together (as a pair) until now. I always maintain that you never truly know someone until you’ve gone travelling with them, so despite our closeness, who knew if we were going to still be speaking by the time we got back? Turns out, we are a travel pairing made in heaven. Bonding over Pokemon GO, The Simpsons quotes (Seasons 1 – 9 ONLY), a penchant for beaches and naturally, boys, we had an absolutely lovely time.
We started our trip in Split, where we spent two nights but really should only have stayed one. It has some beautiful buildings in the old town and some great viewpoints that you can climb up to, but it still pales in comparison to the islands that we would visit next. We walked about, taking in an art gallery and a church, strolled through the old streets eating gelato (not quite as good as in Italy) and drinking £3 beers. We visited a beach that turned out to be the worst of the trip (but still alright) and spent time just chilling in bars and cafes.
From Split we boarded a ferry to the island of Hvar for about £12. We stayed in Hvar town for two nights, although it was clear you could spend longer here if you wanted to. What we did do was climb up to the fortress for mesmerising views of the harbour and visit another beach (this was a good one). Hvar town is clearly a popular resort town, with some upmarket bars (which basically means they’re very expensive with disdainful staff), expensive restaurants and glitzy yachts moored in the harbour. We had one of the best meals of our trip here in a little place named Fig, which used locally sourced ingredients to create California style cuisine. Hvar was the busiest place we visited on our trip, with numerous large groups of… *shudder* British tourists. They went round in large packs, sans masks, being loud and obnoxious, packing into tiny bars and making out in alleyways. Pascal and I steered clear, not because we’re heterophobic per se – we’d just prefer not to catch Miss. Rona.
After Hvar we moved on down to the island of Korčula (core-chu-lah). Korčula is clearly pretty touristy as well, but appeals to a slightly different crowd. It was very quiet, with more families and young couples as opposed to throngs of raucous youths. It was a delight to wander the old town, especially as darkness fell. We admired the sunset and were then treated to live music seemingly coming from every direction. The haunting rendition of “Can’t take my eyes off of you” that drifted to us across the water as we gazed back at the illuminated town I won’t soon forget. There was a baroque festival starting the day we left which we sadly missed, although we did hear the orchestra rehearsing which was very cool! From Korčula town we took a bus to a beach on the eastern tip of the island named Lumbarda which was quite beautiful.
Our final stop of the trip, the crescendo and dazzling finale if you will, was Dubrovnik. It’s a city I’ve been hoping to visit for years, but kept putting off because I hated the idea of having to deal with the hordes of other tourists. Turns out, visiting during a pandemic was an excellent idea in that respect. The city hasn’t been this quiet in decades. Cruise ships aren’t permitted for one thing (6 ships a day dumping 15,000 people at a time is the norm). Pascal and I stayed in a cute studio apartment inside the old city, and had a brilliant time walking the city walls, swimming in the sea and on the final day, renting a kayak and doing a loop of nearby Lokrum island. After being stuck in London lockdown for 5 months, the feeling of kayaking in the sea, with the sun on my face and beautiful views all around me was absolutely sensational. It was by far the highlight of the trip and makes my two week self-isolation upon return to London totally worth it.
Travelling during a pandemic is sub-optimal for sure and not without its risks. Saying that, with the reduced number of tourists, Pascal and I found it fairly easy to avoid any crowded places. We wore our masks whenever we were indoors and regularly sanitised our hands. I’m a week into my self isolation now and while I feel exceedingly restless, I’m working from home and trying not to dwell on the things I’m missing out on. Croatia turned out to be the best week of the year (although there’s not much competition for that) and I’m so glad we did it when we did, as it seems more strict lockdowns are set to make a comeback. Stay safe everyone!