Hvar: The Sexy Party Girl Island
Hvar is like a hormone filled teenager compared to sleepy Korčula. Hvar wants to get you drunk and reckless. Hvar is a sexy island scented with lavender. There is a sexual fire that burns deep within the core of Hvar. I can feel its heat the moment we pull into the harbor.
Our catamaran deposits us in front of the bar, Carpe Diem, at 7:30 PM. Carpe Diem, has a boat that whisks people from the shore to an island dance club. The club on this forbidden island disco does not even start until midnight. As we walk towards the square to find a taxi, we pass restaurants that line Hvar’s port. The lounge music pulsates from the interiors of the restaurants as the tourists flow by dragging their luggage. Hvar is Croatia’s Riviera. The dance music, the lights, the people; glamorous Hvar is just starting to wake up, stretch her long, tan legs and party.
After we drop off our bags at the Apartments Pape in the hill above Hvar Town, we return to the harbor. By then, Havar is a gyrating, pulsating party. Although June is the low season, the harbor is filled with beautiful people. Each establishment has its own super-model fashionably dressed in high heels and a short skirt beckoning to the passing tourist, inviting them to read the menu. The yachts are lining up five deep along the port, unloading more beautiful people dressed in barely there fashion.
We dine at Plava Alga, one of the restaurants along the Riva. Playa Alga has a beautiful young woman who stands in front promising us a spectacular view of the sea from their second floor outdoor balcony and delicious Dalmatian food. She is a student who spends her summers in Hvar making money and the rest of the year studying at the university in Zagreb. We are treated to complimentary desserts and a sweet after dinner liqueur.
After dinner, we head to Carpe Diem for a drink. Claudia, my 20-year-old daughter, and I sit on raised seats that outline the outdoor patio, giving us an elevated view of the bar scene. This elevated seat gives Claudia a regal appearance as if she is a princess seated on a throne. Claudia is illuminated by the warmth of Hvar’s heat. The luminescence from her skin creates a glow that attracts the men of Hvar to her like moths to a flame. Hvar is casting her spell on us. I keep seeing boats heading to the disco island leave with people and return empty. I am suspicious. Claudia is captivated. A handsome first captain from a near-by yacht buys us a drink and explains that it is just a short cruise to the island. Hmmm. The theme of Gilligan’s Island drifts through my head, “a three-hour tour.” Despite his best efforts, he boards his boat to disco island without us. Next a pair of Austrians with a private charter boat offer us a ride. “No thank you,” Claudia looks dejected.
Hvar’s intensity is irresistible, but my fear of getting burned is greater. I look at my beautiful daughter and remember what I would have preferred at twenty. I would have jumped on the first boat and dived straight into Hvar’s hedonistic flame, abandoning myself to the disco debauchery. But, I am forty-nine and I hold Claudia back. Am I motivated by the fear of what might happen to her? Or is it maternal common sense of knowing exactly what might happen to her? No, in reality , I am restrained by my own inability to follow her. We are, after all, mother and daughter, not girlfriends. No matter how much I love spending time with her, laughing at her goofy fake Russian accent or jamming to her play list, it is different. Although I love basking in the glow of her beauty and all of the free drinks it includes, I am terrified of looking like a complete idiot in the middle of a dance floor jammed with grinding twenty-somethings. Claudia and I return to Apartments Pape without taking the boat trip to disco island.
Hung Over in Hvar
The next morning, we descend from our room at the Apartments Pape. Our room is located in a small building at the top of a staircase not far from the harbor on the hill of cinder block houses. The walk from the apartments to Hvar town is a short fifteen minute walk mostly along the waterfront. At this end of the sea walk, the locals park their small commuter boats. There is a sandy beach with a juice stand where children play as their parents lounge nearby. The less flashy restaurants at this end are filled with smells of strudel and people beginning their day. A man, woman and small child arrive in a tiny boat and snuggle it among the moored boats, finding their parking space for the day. Here I hear more Croatian spoken than English. Dobar dan, kako ste? (Good Morning, how are you?) Sve u redu (All is well). We order in Croatian. A man on a motorcycle with a trailer filled with food stops to make his delivery and grab a kava (coffee) with a side of gossip. I sip my fruit smoothie hoping to quell the throb of last night’s barrage of free drinks.
On Top of Hvar, Formica Španjola
We head to Hvar’s old town to explore. Hvar’s name comes from its Greek name Pharos. The Greeks from Paros gave the island the name Pharos when they settled in Hvar in 384 BC, drawn by the unusually fertile plains of the island. The fortress of Formica Španjola on the hill high above Hvar’s old town traces its original foundation to these Illyrian settlers. When Hvar shifted to Venetian rule, the Venetians constructed the present day Fortress. Part of the Fortress was built by the Spanish, explaining its name, “Španjola.”. The fortress saved the island of Hvar from an attack of the Turks in 1571 when the entire town was about to take refuge within its walls. Today, it looks down on the town, offering the best view of the sunset and, according to local legend, fairy dances at night.
We wander through the maze of stairs and alleys that climb the hill of Hvar Town from the plaza to the fortress. In the cool corners are restaurants, shops, wine bars and a public shower with drop-off laundry service. We stop in a shop filled with brightly colored dresses and pants. I ask to try on a dress. A woman with curly blond hair and tan skin offers me a place to change. I realize that behind the curtain of the changing room is the sewing room for these creation. The woman smiles when I ask if all of these clothes are hand-made by her. “Yes, there are all made by me.” I slip into a long sun dress next to her sewing machine and piles of fabric. I am sold, I buy the dress. I ask if she has a Facebook page or a web site so I can share her beautiful work. “No,” she responds “I do not have time for all of that. I would just rather be here and meet the people I sell my clothes to.”
We walk to the top of the stairs, cross the street and climb the winding path to the top of Formica Španjola just in time to watch the sunset. Hvar is spectacular from the top with the blue Adriatic below and the fuchsia and orange heavens above.
The Center of the Sapphire
On our second day, we skim the waves towards the island archipelago near Hvar. Yesterday we signed up for an all day tour on a speed boat. Our contact is an African man dressed like a captain who sits in front of Carpe Diem launching fast talking sales pitches to passing tourists. On our boat are couples from South Africa, Ireland, Spain and Brazil. Claudia and I sit in the very front of the boat, the part that slams up and down the most dramatically as we crest over the waves. Our captain, Daniel, has the music turned up loud. He is playing American pop music, a favorite here in Croatia.
As I am rocking up and down riding what feels like a wild sea-horse, the song Seven Years plays. This song is my nine-year old son’s favorite song. As the singer journals his life’s accomplishments from seven, to eleven, to twenty, to thirty and to sixty, I think about my life at those ages. Sitting on a speed boat in the middle of the Adriatic Sea with my beautiful daughter when I am on the verge of fifty is exactly where I want to be.
It is also where I never imagined I would be when I was seven when our definition of a vacation was packing up our entire house and moving annually at ages seven, eight and nine. At twenty, Europe seemed like an exotic and unattainable destination for a college student on scholarship working my way through school. I could barely afford to buy my own plane tickets home and spent every Thanksgiving as an orphaned guest at various friends’ houses. At thirty, as a newly single parent of a two-year old daughter, it was a struggle to pay our rent and dig my way out of debt and student loan default. But today, oh today, today I am on a boat in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. The journey is even sweeter because the path was not so straight and certain. As I listen to the song, I struggle to choke back tears. I stare straight into the wind hoping no one will notice. Of course, Claudia notices and squeezes my hand as she hangs on for dear life to the wild bronco boat.
Our first stop is the Blue Cave on the island of Biševo. We dock our speed boat at a small harbor and transfer into a smaller motor boat. A young man stands on the front of the boat as we approach a cliff face. As we continue to glide directly towards this shear wall, I notice a small opening just at the water level. The young man standing on the front of the boat orders us to crouch down. We all double over in our seats as we enter the low cave, the ceiling just a few inches from our backs. It is pitch black and disorienting. I sit up when I sense rather than see that we are through the cave. It is still pitch black. However, as we ease forward suddenly a blue glow fills the cave. We have emerged into the center of a liquid sapphire. The blue glow turns Claudia and I into iridescent mermaids, our faces glowing blue like the creates in Avatar. Everywhere, the water glitters like a liquid jewel with an intensely blue light. The cave’s color comes from openings just below the caves surface that filter in the sunlight. It is so beautiful, I do not want to leave. However, the long line of motor boats each with a young man perched on its bow wait to enter the sapphire.
After the Blue Cave, we visit the Green Cave on the Island of Vis. Vis has a fascinating story. Vis spent much of its recent history serving as a military base for the Yugoslav army, cut off from foreign visitors from the 1950s right up until 1989. I met a woman in Split from Vis. She told me that because of this isolation, the inhabitants of Vis are still a little wary of strangers. She also told me the story of her uncle, Jozo Borčić. He was a Croatian ballet dancer who studied at the National Theatre in Split. He danced in Milan, Italy with La Scala Ballet. Now, he is the head of the international ballet summer school in Komiza on the island of Vis.
The Green Cave cast two sparkling liquid emeralds onto the surface of the water in the cave. The Spaniard jumps in to explore while the rest of use snap pictures. We head to what Daniel promises is most beautiful beach in the world, Stiniva, voted best beach in 2016. We arrive at yet another cave entrance. “Can you swim?” Daniel asks all of us. Funny question for him to ask now considering we have all been riding in his speed boat now for over two hours without wearing life jackets. In Croatia, it is Darwin tourism, only the strongest survive. “Sure'” I respond. I can do a mean doggie paddle. “Okay, there is the beach.” He points to a white beach through the arches of the cave entrance. The boat cannot pass through the small entrance into the protected cove. We all jump in and swim for it. The beach feels farther than it looks as I alternate between the breast stroke and a side stroke. The beach is covered with tiny small white pebbles, making it very beautiful, but very painful on which to walk. I drag myself onto the shore with all of the grace of a sea-lion.
After Stiniva, we stop for lunch at Molo Trovna cove and then head back to Hvar. On the way back, we ride in the back of the speed boat. I almost prefer the bouncing bronco ride in the front. In the back, each bounce sends massive splashes of water that soak me to the bone. By the time we reach Hvar, I am shivering despite the 90 degree heat. We head to the public shower just off the square of the old town and pay for a private shower. This hot shower is worth every kuna. We return to Carpe Diem just in time to pick up our bags and board the Catamaran to Split, our last stop on our ferry hoping portion of our Croatia trip.
As we pull out of the harbor, I take one last look at Carpe Diem. It is filled with a group of twenty-somethings all dressed in white dancing on the tables and the bar with their arms raised, bouncing in unison. It is 7:30 PM and Hvar is at it again, that tireless party girl island.
Life is an adventure, not a destination, carpe diem and be exactly where you want to be.