Overcast in Hvar

The lavender-covered island of Hvar, a thirty-minute ferry ride from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, enjoys a purported 350 sunny days each year. Today wasn’t one of those days.

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My husband and I set out to explore Hvar Town, a twenty-minute stroll from the hotel along the pathway hugging the Adriatic Sea. The overcast sky didn’t make for great photos, but our legs thanked us for the opportunity to stretch out after four days on the motorcycle.

The evening before, our group—a mix of Americans and Canadians, a smiling quartet from Rio, and a pair of wise-cracking Australians—were whisked by water taxi to a local, family-run restaurant where we were wined and dined (perhaps overly wined, in fact) under the boughs of olive trees. So perhaps the lack of sunshine this morning was a good thing, helping us recover from one too many sips of the smooth, rose-scented rakia.

A line of umbrella-toting worshippers slowly walked the perimeter of St. Stephen’s Square. Our guide had mentioned the Michaelmas celebration. Having survived the various saints’ days that overwhelmed summer weekends in the Italian North End of Boston, I had expected celebratory music blaring, crowds of onlookers enjoying traditional foods, perhaps a cadre of raucous senior citizens hoisting a statue of St. Michael. Instead, the queue filed silently through the mist into the church, heads bowed.

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Off the main square, we maneuvered through a maze of narrow pedestrian streets. Restaurants tucked in small alcoves, numerous art galleries, and fashionable clothing shops caught our eyes, but we were searching for something else. Up flight after flight of steps, we followed arrows that promised “Fortica Španjola.” Finally, the stairs ended… halfway to the top of the mountain where the fortress stood. We completed the ascent, catching glimpses of the sea and the Pakleni islands through the palm and pine trees lining the switchbacking path.

We spent the rest of the afternoon nursing cold Ožujskos and relaxing in the tangerine-cushioned lounge chairs along the beach at our hotel. Three bikinied English women, immune to the cool ocean breeze, padded past us and lowered themselves down the ladder into the waves. With their hair piled up in buns, they held their heads above the water as they doggie paddled out to the ropes marking off the swimming area. Despite the waves, the water was clear, allowing us to watch the small fish swarming about and sea urchins crawling across the rocky bottom.

Suddenly, one of the swimmers screamed. “Something touched me!” As they splashed their way back to the ladder, an Italian woman, half-dozing in a lounge chair near the ladder, calmly said, “It’s a diver.” Sure enough, a line of bubbles led from the spot where the women had been treading to a wetsuit-clad man hauling his tank aboard a small boat anchored not from shore.

The women giggled embarrassedly, shivering as the breeze picked up. As they wrapped themselves in orange towels that matched the lounge cushions a little too perfectly, the Italian woman looked up at them. “I told you so. Those bubbles were from the diver. Sharks don’t fart.” One of the English swimmer replied with a smile, “Maybe Croatian ones do!”