We continued to wine and dine well – it seems almost impossible to do otherwise in Croatia.
Sarah was inevitably drawn to the produce of the local vineyards but was unable to persuade me to officially tour about the fruit on the vine. Nonetheless, the cheap and cheerful tactic of simply ordering the house wine needed no revising. One night, we booked dinner in a restaurant far enough up in the hills for the owners to employ a driver to deliver its customers. Our large, bearded and genial host resembled a caveman dilettante and was meticulous in explaining a 6-hour cooking process that used clay pots over hot coals.
The dozen or so diners were spread about the terrace outside, but the tranquil mood was upset somewhat when a young American turned up without a confirmed reservation. Only a few days earlier, our own late cancellation by phone was almost refused minutes before our clay pots were lowered onto the embers. We empathised with this reverse horror and were tempted to offer him some of the greasy hunks of succulent lamb and potatoes we were unable to finish. Others did the same, but he politely refused and made do with an ad hoc plate of vegetables. I considered asking the management to place a sheet over his head to assuage our guilt over our own public gluttony.
On another night, we ordered a seafood platter that included 300 grams of langoustines and half a kilo of calamari. It later infiltrated my dreams. Employed at some freelance editing job I didn’t understand – a common theme based loosely on past experiences – I was also trying to create a fish stew despite my fear that the ingredients had been festering malevolently in the fridge for three weeks. Thankfully, this dark twist on my daily life did not spill back to pollute my real-life stomach. While I tossed and turned over this testing hybrid of editorial and culinary issues, a massive thunderstorm raged outside. Sarah, like the madwoman in the attic, presided over it from the window of our temporary home.
Our last day involved an untypical and sustained blast of exercise. We wanted to visit Koniza – the other town on the far side of the island – a rival that our guidebook claimed had a more bohemian slant. I’m not sure if they had to ship them in or whether this rather underpopulated corner produced a surfeit of such folk. To arrive, we propelled our hire bikes some 14km over first steep coastal hills to a less undulating plateau that climbed slowly up for too long before cruising sharply down into the idyllic harbour town at its foot.
The seafront was packed with restaurants and ice-cream parlours and a more semi-permanent breed of tourist. I perceived an understated smugness in our fellow travellers. Perhaps they were sworn to silence to better preserve this quiet Adriatic jewel. Its close atmospheric lanes felt like ideal places to disappear to for criminals, novelists and romantics seeking to shut out the external world. One bar was slowly working its way through the entire works of Pink Floyd. On several levels, on can only hope that Mama Mia 3 does not make it past the pitch stage. The waiter who brought us octopus salad and fish stew was radiant with joy and good humour. He was the third, and last, smiling Croat. Relatively speaking, his demeanour might one day land him in a lunatic asylum.
But for us, lunch was the prelude to the mammoth effort of climbing the mountain that enclosed it. For our return, we took the direct route. It took us 90 minutes to ascend 4km from sea-level to an altitude of 500m. At times, I dismounted in despair at our too slow progress towards its summit, while Sarah gamely inched ahead on two slow wheels. After reaching it, we took 20 minutes to cover the remaining six kilometres’ home.