Croatia was nothing like I expected, and that was a good thing

Photo by Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney

HVAR, Croatia — When traveling in Europe, one of the best features about doing so is the accessibility to other countries.

While it’s a full day heft getting from the United States across the Ocean, once there, you can go almost anywhere that is new and interesting.
My first weekend in Europe, four friends and I decided to hit up Yacht Week at the Island of Hvar in Croatia.
Before this past week, my only knowledge of Croatia was that it was country that had been ravaged by war and was the home of former NBA player Drazen Petrovic. So it didn’t sound all that appealing to me.
The group tried to ease my apprehensions by telling me Hvar is the new Ibiza in Spain, which is where the rich and famous go to unwind. After an hour flight from Rome to Split, Croatia, I was quickly impressed by the beautiful scenery and landscape.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia and has become a tourist hub. The city provides free buses downtown for people to do shopping. I wish all major U.S. cities would do that.
After one look at the historic Jupiter Temple and the buildings, you realize the town has seen much of Europe’s amazing and bloody history. Split is also where some scenes from the hit TV show “Game of Thrones” is filmed.

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We were only in Split a short minute before jumping on a catamaran (big boat) to head to Hvar. I should have known we were running with a different crowd when I started seeing yachts off all sizes and country origins as we pulled into port. One gentleman had three huge yachts stationed along the coast just because he could, according to one of our guides.
 The organizers of The Yacht Week described the event as “seven days of sailing to hidden splendors most landlubbers couldn’t get to, experiencing exclusive events and, the best part, being completely surrounded by an equal balance of adventure-seeking guys and girls from around the world.”
I was sold.
As soon as I departed the boat, I was struck by just how clean and picturesque Hvar was. The houses that sit on the cost of the Adriatic Sea have an understated ‘Old Man and the Sea’ feel.
A 16th century Napoleon fortress overlooks the port city and provides amazing views for those courageous enough to climb the long winding stair path to the top of the hill. It’s well worth the extra exertion once you get a look from the top.
But as ancient of a feel as castle and merchants gave off, Havr is a country trying come into the modern age to fit its clientele – with Sports Bars and Wi-Fi spots easily found. Each time I told a Croatian resident I was from Oklahoma, the first words out of their mouth was Kevin Durant. That always led to a discussion on why he left to go to Golden State, to which I had no good answer for them.
One thing that brings wealthy tycoons and college students alike flocking to the small island every summer is the late night party scene. The square in the middle of the town has several good clubs with good music blaring out the doors beckoning passerby’s to come in.
But it was the Carpe Dien Beach Club that was on the lips of local residents and frequent visitors when asked where was the best night spot to hit. It is a mix of spring break in Daytona and bottle service clubs in Miami.
Revelers have to take a 20-minute boat ride to an island just off the coast of Hvar to get to Carpe. It doesn’t get really going until after 1 a.m. and doesn’t close until 6 a.m. But for those who have the stamina and willpower to make it to closing, with the sun coming out at 5:30 a.m. it makes for a nice walk back to the hotel in broad daylight.
The first thing our group did once we reached town was to hire a boat and a driver for a six-hour tour of the islands and coves that surround Hvar. Instead of going with a tourist company, we chose an independent operator. That means they follow their own rules like ask if it was OK for them to smoke a couple of joints while our crew went swimming.
Through some ferocious waves that made me feel like I had fought a young Mike Tyson, the two brothers took us to normal tourist sites like the Blue Grotto and the Green Cove. But they also found us secluded beaches to do some snorkeling and swimming in the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.
We used the same duo on back-to-back days and the hidden gems they found us never failed. One of the two best spots was lunch at a beach located in an out of the way cove. Overlooking the cove and the beach, with the wind slightly blowing off the sea, it was a perfect spot for a bowl of steamed mussels and assorted fish. It was so quaint and relaxing, you were almost forced to take a nap on the padded benches.
This beach was also where I learned that every beach in Europe is pretty much a nude beach. I will just say Europeans are not ashamed to bear it all. No matter what age or fitness level.
The second best spot on Hvar was a very popular establishment called the Tree House. The cove was filled with boats and yachts of all sizes the Sunday afternoon we visited. There was a club atmosphere taking place as millionaires and some billionaires mingled with tourists and local residents with club music coming out from the speakers and spreading throughout the cove.
They were two totally different experiences. One was quiet, relaxing and understated. The other was overboard, ostentatious and pure new century.  But both best summed up what Croatia is all about these days.

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Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer. He can  be reached through Eyeamtruth.com

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