I had no real idea what Republic of Croatia would be like as the plane touched down at Pula airport. Indeed, If I were to be completely honest I wasn’t sure of where Croatia actually was, and given a map I might only have been able to estimate an approximate location. My excuse though, is reasonable, or at least I thought so.

Croatia isn’t shown on the dated map of the world that hangs on my office wall. Printed in 1990 that map still includes the country of Yugoslavia which was broken into the five separate countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Macedonia after the Yugoslav Civil Wars which took place between 1991 and 2001.

My office map desperately needs to be replaced, and after this trip I find myself motivated to do so, if only to see Croatia and the other four countries given their rightful place in the world that hangs on my office wall.

For my birthday (in January), my brother, Pete, generously paid for us both to travel to Western coast of Istrian peninsula of Croatia. He has an apartment in the antique city of Rovinj, a tourist trap where the sunsets meet the Adriatic sea and Venice is just a ferry ride away. It’s a popular location with Italians and Germans and is described by glossy travel brochures as being “how the Mediterranean used to be.”

As we were driven the short distance from Pula airport to Rovinj the picture in my mind of what Croatia might have looked like quickly faded. I had not expected this old-style Mediterranean landscape complete with it’s colorful buildings, terra-cotta tiled roofs, clay red soil, and deep blue skies. But here we were in Croatia and, expectations aside, the landscape unfolding before me already made me feel like I was uncovering jewels where no treasure map had told of.

Our driver, a pleasant local man by the name of Goran, sped along the road with his Christian music playing in the background as he made conversation in a charming mixture of broken English and hand gestures that filled the gaps in his vocabulary.

“This place make best sweets.” He said while pointing at a building that we passed in a blur. “Very best sweets in all around, yes.” He continued as we nodded in exaggerated ways as one so often does when communicating in different languages.

A little further down the road Peter pointed out a shabby red building which announced itself as the ‘Villa Romantica’ from a roadside sign. Despite its name it seemed neither villa like nor a place of particular romance. It was, of course, a strip club. With a name like ‘Villa Romantica’ it could hardly be anything else.

“People who going to this place,” Announced Goran as the Christian music continued to fill the car. “they… they are…” He paused to find the words to finish his sentence. “Going to hell?” I asked. “Yes. Of course.” He replied in a matter-of-fact fashion without the slightest delay or hesitation.

At our destination in Rovinj Goran helped us with our bags. Peter paid him and we shook hands, then as he helped me pick up my luggage he left me with a footnote. “Remember,” He said. “Think of God.” I smiled and assured him that I would, and with that he drove off.

A travel brochure would describe Pete’s apartment, called Sigurna Luka, as “intimate”, meaning it’s small. Somehow though, despite it’s “intimacy”, his apartment is a homely little hideaway that overlooks one of the many tiny little cobbled streets that weave their way through the Rovinj like ivy. It’s immaculately decorated to a standard much higher than one might expect in a place so ancient, and just moments from the edge of the Adriatic sea, it’s ideally located to experience Rovinj at its best.

Pete was going to stay in his apartment on his own and had generously paid for me to stay in another nearby apartment with views overlooking the small bay area where fishermen repair their nets before setting out to the open water. As I looked across at that scene I couldn’t help but smile to myself as I knew this was now a bookmark location in the travels of my life. I was pleased to be here with Pete, pleased to be sharing some rare time with my older brother.

Over the next few days we had no schedule, no map or timetable, no plans to wake early or busy ourselves with the local sights. Instead we just enjoyed the winter sun, the blue skies, and conversations that wandered like raindrops on a window. These would be the slowest of days, and neither of us were in any hurry.

It didn’t take me long to feel at home in Croatia. With Pete’s familiarity of the narrow streets, their cobbles worn to a shine by the thousands of feet that have walked upon them, Rovinj quickly felt comfortable and warm like an old coat brought out of its seasonal retirement.

The buildings are crammed together like marshmallows in a bag, their candy store colors seemingly bursting onto the streets. Behind the rickety wooden doors and shuttered windows hundreds, if not thousands of stories lie in wait. History might forget the secrets some of the building must surely keep.

At night the streets turn to treasure under the golden glow of lanterns lighting a path to the church of St. Euphemia with its bell tower reaching for heaven and calling for Angels at various times through the day and night.

One evening, after Pete had gone back to his apartment, I decided to go for a walk. The streets were completely deserted, the air still and silent. I sat down on some rocks overlooking the adriatic, listening the the gentle waves of the sea. I’m no smoker, but such moments are reserved for the occasional cigar.

I lit the cigar and leaned back to take in the salty sea air and the stars that littered the sky in numbers beyond counting. These stars have seen this all before, and that reminded me that even the longest life is but a glimmer to a star. I smoked the cigar, then slowly walked back to the apartment.

It wasn’t a long trip, and soon enough we were back in England standing in the frozen night like victims of a stagecoach robbery as the cold air stole our winter warmth.

As Pete scrapped the frost from the windshield of his car I thought about how it would feel a little strange to not be in his company the next day after I had enjoyed it so much these last few days. We rarely get to spend time as brothers what with the business of life and all. But I wasn’t sad. It might have only been a few short days, but I have a feeling that trip will last a lifetime.

[All but the top picture in this post were photographed by myself : Pictures with a small magnifying glass icon in the top right can be clicked on to see a larger version of that photograph.]

About Rovinj
Google maps – Satellite picture
Check out these pictures of Rovinj
The postcard we sent back home to the ‘olds.’