Boats & Beers in Hvar

Hvar,  Croatia • July 2015 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes

Wandering along Hvar Harbour under the stale 40 degree heat of the mid-afternoon sun we noticed a chalkboard sign that simply read: ‘Rent a Boat, Mate.’ With such a genius piece of informal advertising there was really no choice but to see if the request still stood, so armed with visions of sipping a few cold ones as a pleasant sea breeze rolled through we wandered up to the guy at the kiosk to find out a bit more about this casual offer.

“Alright mate,” I greeted him, “do you happen to have any boats left to rent?”

“Sorry mate,” he responded. “Our last vessel was handed out at 10am this morning and they’re all already booked up until at least tomorrow lunchtime due to the music festival and great weather.”

“Aw that sucks mate, do you know if any of the other tour operators have spare boats?”

“No, unfortunately they don’t mate. Once we’ve rented all of ours my next action is to call around and see who has any boats left. The entire fleet is out on the water at the moment sorry.”

“Ah, no worries mate. Have a good day.”

Unperturbed, we continued along the harbour pathway; well-traveled enough to know that the guy was most likely lying. This meant also meant that we weren’t exactly surprised when stopped by the very next tour operator, a grinning black man perched on his bicycle-driven billboard that had been parked outside of the Carpe Diem bar in the exact spot where I’d been smacked the night before.

“You guys looking to rent a boat?”

“Yeah man, we are actually. What have you got available?”

“For the five of you I can offer this one for 2,500 Kuna” he said, pointing at the picture of a high-speed power boat with turbo engines, leather seats, and elaborate decking.

“Eh, we were thinking of something a little bit more basic and on the cheaper side,” was my carefully worded response.

“Okay, sit tight and I’ll be right back” he said quizzically; and with that started jogging along the pier front until he'd disappeared completely into the bustling crowds. Twenty minutes elapsed in which Nick and Gadams grabbed some lunch, stocked up on beers, and paid way over the odds for a volleyball we would burst before even returning to shore.

“You think he’s coming back?” I asked Endy, not convinced.

“Eh, I’m not too sure, but we’ve got fuck all else to do so let’s just hold on and see.”

True to his words, just a couple of short minutes later our man panted his way back over with the good news that he’d managed to source us a boat. What he neglected to mention however, having spared no time in taking our crisp hundred notes, was that the thing had been brought out of retirement and probably hadn’t been started in over a year. Heading along to the other end of the pier, past ships so large they could only have belonged to Russian oligarchs, we noticed a man standing on what was effectively a plank of wood with an outboard motor attached, ripping aggressively at the chord to the sound of repeated spluttering. When it did eventually kick into life, persistence proving to be key, it coughed like a chain-smoker having an asthma attack as he steered it from the holding pen to the water’s edge.

“You’ve got to be shitting me” said Gadams, letting out his trademark cackle. “That is the sketchiest, most un-seaworthy, boat I have ever seen!”

 “Yeah but when have we ever done anything properly?” I reminded him.

Squeezing into the floating wooden bathtub that looked to have been hammered together by a blind carpenter, Endy took charge of the motor which might have been pinched from a lawnmower and we trundled out into the vast ocean; facing near-capsizing moments each time we drifted into the wave trails left by those actually belonged at sea. Passing a nudist beach, we rounded a large island and scoped two boats filled with hot Spanish girls pulling into a cove where there were dozens of other vessels anchored up.

Having misinformed the tour operator about our experience, none of us having ever actually driven a boat before, we cut the engine a fair distance from the beach next to a similar-sized boat with 5 Aussies on board. The driver, sporting a rather fashionable captain’s hat; swimming shorts; and unbuttoned shirt that revealed his little pot belly, peered out from under his sun-protecting awning as we dropped anchor and let out a chuckle.

“You boys are going to be doing a lot of this out here this afternoon” he joked, rubbing his chest in the lathering motion one would do when applying sun-block. “That thing looks like it came from a scrap yard.”

“Yeah, it was the last boat left available.”

“No shit.”

Slapping the volleyball back-and-forth in the perfectly clear salt water we were soon interrupted by the arrival of yet another boat, this one proudly sporting the Brazilian flag. Speeding into the harbour straight towards the Spanish girls now paddling about, the two boys on board launched the anchor carelessly off the side and released the accelerator whilst still in motion in an attempt to make an impressive, sexy, and masculine entrance. Not going at all to plan, as the anchor failed to catch the ocean floor the pair of morons drifted hopelessly over some channel markers into a 'swimming only' zone, narrowly avoiding a full-on collision and scaring the life out of the beauties.

As the embarrassment levels rose, they then struggled to twist the keel back out to safety under a torrent of hilarious abuse coming from the Aussies, and once they did eventually get back across the markers into suitable waters they couldn't for love nor money get the boat started again. Laughing at their troubles, one of the girls gracefully hopped aboard in her skimpy bikini and with a single pull of the engine chord got the thing back up and running.

“What fucking idiots," concluded The Aussie Captain. "That is the most embarrassing attempt at attracting females I've ever seen in my entire life."

Music Festival Season in Croatia (Bucket List #123)

Hvar, Croatia • July 2015 • Length of Read: 7 Minutes

“…there is also a chill beach about a 10 minute walk to the North,” said Suzanna etching the nib of her pen along a paper map of the island, “but I’m assuming you guys are more interested in where the best nightlife is situated, yes?”

Our hostel owner had clearly dealt with enough male backpackers to know exactly why we had come to her beautiful island of Hvar and proceeded to give us a detailed run-down of exactly where to find the hottest girls, cheapest food, and most insane music. For a mother to a child under five she really did seem to have her finger on the pulse of what was going on, but the vibes she was emitting did also portray the image of a wild girl who must have more than a few tales of mischief from her youth. Upon asking if she cared to join us for a few drinks, it took a good bit of self-persuasion on her part to decline the offer in favour of some much needed housekeeping.

As we lounged on the patio, speakers on full-blast, a boy and girl covered in fluorescent body paint and dressed head to toe in neon cut-offs appeared on one of the overlooking balconies. Peter and Katie were a Harvard educated couple in their late-twenties who had tickets for the UltraFestival that evening, and had somehow managed to go so overboard on the fashion front that they looked completely out-of-place for a pool party rave. We told them that our plan, based on the wisdom of our sexy host, was to start at the Hula Hula before heading over to Carpe Diem around midnight and they agreed to join us there. Just then the bay windows of a neighbouring balcony flew open and another pair appeared above us.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said the guy, “but did you guys say that you were heading out shortly?”

“Yeah man, you fancy joining us?”

“Sure, let us just get changed and we’ll be right down.”

Two minutes later Nick from Toronto, way of Boston, and his Swiss pal Laura were pouring a couple of vodka mixers beside us to take on the road. They had met at an International School in The States and in planning a long-overdue reunion had agreed upon the suggestion:, 'why not make it a summertime in Croatia?'

At first glance Hula Hula Hvar appears to be a make-shift tiki bar, the planks of wooden decking strewn across the rocky coastline looking more like a game of 'nature Jenga' that has got out-of-hand than a classy beach club. What this unique setting offers however is the wicked combination of outrageously stunning sunsets from the shoreline and incredibly strong cocktails, served in what can only be described as over-sized flower vases. As we wandered around sipping on the lethal concoctions from extra-long straws, Nick and I befriended a group of Canadians who had drank so much during Mediterranean Yacht Week that they'd been left mute, some lovely Argentinian girls who informed me that my Spanish was 'pobre' at best, and a girl who said the best moment of her life 'ever' was when she shared an elevator ride with Rupert Murdoch. I suppose the diversity of characters was just in-line with the absurdness of the awesome venue then.

As the clock ticked into the early hours of the morning we joined the crowds making their way back along the harbour to the main pier where Carpe Diem was situated; arm-in-arm with a couple of exceptionally hot bikini-clad Eastern Europeans until it transpired they were more interested in snaking some free drinks than conversing and sharing slices of cold street-vendor pizza. Entering the bar without them, we grabbed one of the free tables whereby a waiter was quick to come over and inform us that we were only permitted to remain seated if bottle-service was ordered.

"This one's on me lads" announced my mate Endy, whipping out his American Express before the rest of us could even deliberate the matter. "One bottle of vodka, some sprite, and a some beers to chase please monsieur." - God I love my friends.

Whilst we were waiting for the drinks to be served Nick and I ventured out onto the cobbled street and began chatting to a few of the passers-by. We had just approached a pair of Australian girls and were fluff-talking away when a Hulk of a drunkard barged over, muscles bulging from his skin-tight tank top and sporting a ridiculous snap-back cap that looked like it was cutting off the circulation of blood flow to his cranium.

"What do you think you're doing?" he barked menacingly.

"Just talking to our new girlfriends" I responded cheekily.


The words had barely left my mouth when his ogre-like fist landed square on my left cheekbone. I staggered backwards, just managing to maintain my footing, and immediately scurried back into the venue. Thankfully the vodka had arrived in a large ice-bucket and I quickly took a handful of cubes and pressed them against my face.

"What the hell happened to you?" asked a concerned Gadams, my pal pre-empting the response and gearing himself up for a scrap.

"Some dude just leathered him" responded Nick, who sensibly hadn't bothered hanging around for the guy's next move either. "We were chatting up what must have been his girlfriend and he seemingly took a little bit of offence."

"What a dick, did you smack him back?"

"Mate, I couldn't even beat my way out of a paper bag..."

Thankfully the connection hadn't been with knuckles and once I was convinced there wouldn't be any serious bruising it was right back to the partying at hand. Peter and Katie had located us, following a slight de-tour back home to change out of their raving costumes into more appropriate attire, and we joked away until the first passenger boats started to arrive. Each night around 2am, when Carpe Diem closes its doors on the mainland, everyone gets ferried across to a small island now illuminated out at sea where the club continues its festivities off-shore until the sun starts to rise. Setting off, we spent the entire ten minute journey bellowing every patriotic Scottish song imaginable, much to the delight of DJ Oliver Heldens who also happened to be aboard, before paying the €20 cover upon disembarking that gave us entry into a mystical forest of a dance floor.

Between the curved spines of the leafless trees draped in fairly lights people were going absolutely mental, reacting to every nuanced change in the set list blaring from the sound system on the raised stage and the amps hidden in the foliage. There were four Irish girls dancing away nearby, and exchanging some craic we formed a large circle near one of the barrel-shaped tables as Heldens took to the decks. Half-an-hour of bantering passed, in which Gadams almost manage to convince one of the girls that I was  Connor McGregor's cousin and he Rory McIlroy's drinking buddy, before a wide-shouldered American 'bro' in a floral shirt squeezed into the middle of the circle and shuffled straight up to the gorgeous Sarah.

"Hi there, my name's Jeff" he announced as if he were King of the Jungle. "What's yours?"

"MY NAME'S JEEEEEEEEEFFFFF" Gadams and I screamed in unison before Sarah could respond, nailing Channing Tatum's accent from 22 Jump Street and the quote appearing on almost every meme posted on-line in the latter half of 2014. The girls burst into fits of laughter as the dude just stood there perplexed. Grounded on the spot, the fact that he clearly didn't get the reference in the slightest just added to the hilarity. In comedy timing, Endy then came wandering back from the bar and I couldn't help but take the liberty of introducing him to our new companion.

"Hey man, come and meet our new friend. His name is Jeff"

"MY NAME'S JEEEEEEEEEFFFFF" squealed Endy, causing another outburst from the group. The dude took one further glance, his face now glowing a distinct shade of scarlet, and marched off with his head slumped. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't speak to a single stranger for the remainder of his trip...

Dubrovnik - Canadian Love & Cold Drinks With The Most Beautiful View

Dubrovnik, Croatia • July 2015 • Length of Read: 6 Minutes

I stirred from my afternoon nap to a half-naked Chinese man leering over me and panting profusely; a pair of skin-tight wet-suit shorts leaving little to the imagination… and I mean little…

“Hey,” I groggily mumbled. “What’s going on?”

“Hello. I just been kayak. Very tired. Much exhausting for 3 hours paddling.”

“Yeah, I can imagine out in that heat” I responded, just glad to get an explanation for his lack of attire. “Was it fun?

“Very much so, but now I must sleep.”

“No worries man” I said, rolling back over into my pillow and pulling down my eye mask for some further shut-eye.

When I awoke for the second time, the Chinese man was passed out under his sheets, and the bunk above which was previously empty now had a tanned guy with a headband lounging out in it.

“Awrite mate” I said, momentarily forgetting that Scottish slang usually goes amiss with most backpackers.

“Awrite man” he responded in a very familiar accent. “Where are you from?”

“Glasgow, you?”

“Glasgow” he grinned.

“Haha, nice.”

Joseph was at the tail end of a two month European Tour which has seen him trek across the alps and down into the medieval menace of Florence and The Eternal City of Rome. In all the time he’d been on the road however I was only the second countryman he’d come across, and bantering about life in and around the University campus where he studied Geology was clearly a refreshing hometown comfort. Recharged after my power nap, we headed to a beach located just outside The Walls where we traded travel stories about the mishaps and characters we’d encountered on our different journeys until the sun started to set.

The French dude at the hostel reception had suggested a local place away from the tourist-inflated prices of the main street to grab some dinner, so we wandered across and ordered come Cevapi and Ozujsko beer at his recommendation. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from a ‘traditionally Croatian’ dish, but when the waiter brought over what was effectively 8 sausages in a king-sized bun stuffed with lettuce, tomato, and garnish, I was pleasantly set-back. Having had nothing since lunch it was wolfed down in a manner to be frowned upon by anyone of upstanding values; certainly not a date dish but delightfully filling.

Back at the hostel we sat out on the patio playing some cards under candlelight and sipping on some more Ozujsko that had been picked up at a mini-market on the way home. A couple of Canadian girls with a tub of ice-cream sat down to join us and our card games were soon put to the side as a couple of lads from Brighton also came up the stairs. Apparently in Dubrovnik, unlike every other city on the European continent, Saturday nights are the quietest of the week, with the locals all heading out from Sunday to Thursday and then using the weekend to relax and recover. The French guy warned us that due to this and the coinciding opera taking place down in the main square not much would be kicking off, so we decided to just head down as a group to the marina and have a ghetto-style moonlit liquid –picnic.

One of the guys from Brighton, who based on his accent originally hailed from Australia, had been travelling for over 14 months having built a guitar tuition app that provided him enough passive income to spend his days bouncing from country to country. Whereas some people might have been arrogant and flash about the whole thing however, he was really humble and talked down his achievements as if he were embarrassed to discuss the success of it all. “It doesn’t bring in a lot man, but I was able to party my whole way through Asia for 7 months straight. So much for getting the work done on my next project that I was meant to…”

The girls mentioned a place where you could get some drinks whilst taking in ‘the best view in Dubrovnik’, so as the Brighton boys bode us farewell Joseph and I followed them up the cobbles and past a sign that read ‘cold drinks with the most beautiful view’ until we reached a wrought iron gate at the foot of the Southern Walls. Entering, we found seating areas perched amongst the scattered rocks marking the Adriatic coastline. The girls had been at Buza Bar earlier in the day, cliff diving from the tables into the depths of the crystal clear water below. As for the view at 1am however, it was more like staring into an abyss than out at the vast ocean of colour they had seen when the sun was up, but the glimmer and shimmer of the lights from vessels still at sea gave an alternative kaleidoscope of imagery as they swept effortlessly across the horizon to destinations unknown; beacons illuminating the darkness.

We paired off and I went for a stroll with Keira further down to the water’s edge. She was a psychology student in Toronto and started rambling on about her Synesthesia, a neurological condition in which the stimulation of one sense automatically triggers an involuntary stimulation in another. To put it in Lehman’s terms she gave the example of only being able to use plastic cutlery as otherwise every time she eats all she can taste is the metal of the fork. “The book Wednesday is Indigo Blue contains remarkable interviews and scientific studies on the topic, but it is almost impossible for someone to rationalize that isn’t affected by it. Did you know every time I see the number 4 it is always the colour green, no matter what is actually printed?

“That’s mental!" was my response, genuinely fascinated by this phenomenon. “And what senses are triggered when this happens?” I cheekily added, leaning in for a kiss…

The Walls of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, Croatia • July 2015 • Length of Read: 6 Minutes

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Dubrovnik Airport where the local time is now 7:30am.”

I pulled off my sleeping mask and winced at the bloodshot eyes glaring back-at me from the screen of my forward-facing phone camera. I hadn’t slept properly since arriving in Amsterdam the week before, and the closest I’d got to any form of proper kip in the past two days had been the 5 hours curled-up on the concrete departures entrance of Rome Airport during my layover from Schiphol. Nevertheless I had a new city to discover, and whilst on the road take pride in squeezing out every second of my time, never knowing when I might return to a certain destination or place, or if ever.

The half-hour local airport shuttle-bus dropped us off at Pile Gate, the Western entrance to Dubrovnik’s Old Town; a UNESCO World Heritage Site fortressed by a 2km long – 25m high- walled system of turrets and towers built to protect against enemy attack from the Adriatic Sea. According to my hostel direction however I was not to enter through the grandiose drawbridge that stood magnificently before me, but through the Buza gate to the north; Buza literally translating to ‘hole’ in the wall. Having entered, I was then to take the first street on my right until I passed a restaurant called Lady Pi-Pi, apparently noticeable from a distinct fountain in the courtyard.

Trundling my suitcase over the cobbled street, the purpose of my visit to Amsterdam not allowing the luxury of a backpack, I reached what was unmistakably the stone sculpture in question and was immediately transported back to my time in Brussels. During what was, let’s say, an 'unconventional' tour, my friend Bjorn had shown me not only the world famous Manekken Pis, but also the lesser known statue of the Jeanekken Pis, a sister to the ‘Little Pee Boy’ that is hidden down an alleyway just round the corner. Now, here in Dubrovnik, I was faced with the Croatian equivalent as the carving of a woman sitting spread-eagled shot a jet of water out from her nether regions into the basin at my feet. I wondered whether the locals would also be so forthcoming with their welcomes… or if the tap water was safe to drink at that?

Check-in wasn't until 2pm but the girl cleaning the place was kind enough to let me store my bags and use the facilities. Feeling less burdened and slightly refreshed, although no less tired, I pulled on a pair of shorts and headed down to Stratum, the Old Town’s main thoroughfare where, despite the early hour, hundreds of tourists were already crowding though the entrance on a seemingly endless conveyor belt of walking tours. Now this hasn’t been factually verified, but I would guess that is how Pile Gate first got its name… from the vast amount of people trying to 'pile' through the narrow entrance at once.

In recent years, thanks to certain film scouts, Dubrovnik’s main selling point has switched from that of a city with great historical relevance to one that serves as a premier filming location for the HBO series Game of Thrones. As the temperature creeped its way into the thirties I scanned the groups being led around the fictional TV capital of Westeros, and in a bout of oblivious irony noticed that many of the people now vigorously applying sun cream were also sporting merchandise t-shirts bearing the famous Season 1 quote: “Brace Yourselves, Winter Is Coming.” I crossed my fingers in the hope that the Croatian weather wasn’t as erratic as these fans were making out.

My first port of call was to circumnavigate The Walls, and paying the 100 Kuna (€15) restoration entrance fee I marched up the steep stone steps to the most remarkable view. Every last morsel of space had been squeezed from the Old Town, which is completely prevented from expanding by the towering barricades of human architecture upon which I now stood. Dodging selfie-sticks like I were Neo in The Matrix I strolled round, simultaneously taking in the sheer vertical cliffs of the Dalmatian Coastline to my right and the hustle and bustle of daily life on my left. At some points I could even see directly into people’s living rooms; the locals getting on with their breakfast preparations and laundry chores clearly numb to the flow of gaping tourists past their wide-open windows. It took about an hour to traverse the length of the course and as I descended back to ground level, swapping the glorious sea breeze for the naturally baking cauldron below, the faint sound of what seemed to be the Game of Thrones theme tune became crisply louder. At the base of the stairs sat a busker dressed head-to-toe in traditional Croatian garments and playing the soundtrack on repeat from a little hand-carved violin as revelers dumped coins into his up-turned hat. He may as well have had a license to print money.

Grabbing some lunch in the marina whilst watching the boats enter and exit the harbor to and from their various excursions, I then settled down in an Irish Pub to catch some of the morning’s Wimbledon coverage. I’ve come to the realization whilst travelling that it is easier to locate an Irish Pub in a foreign city that it is a McDonald's or Starbucks, and that each and every one of them claims 100% authenticity. At least this one served Guinness I suppose, and that is the first test.

When 2 pm hit I headed back up the mountain of stairs to the hostel, where upon checking in I immediately crashed out; the heat of the blazing mid-day sun being kept at bay by the gloriously air-conditioned cool-box of a dorm.