On day two of our Croatian Culture and Language Course, Julia Molden catches up with the early birds as the group convenes in Vrboska and sets out on its exploration of the island of Hvar. Stari Grad, Velo Grablje and Hvar Town are amongst the highlights of the day, interspersed with hydration and caffeine stops!
By the time I woke up at 07:30, the rest of the house seemed already to have been up for a couple of hours whereas in England it would still have been only 06.30 with another two or three hours in bed. But up I got to start the new day without causing any delays and after breakfast off we set on our full day excursion. The first stop was Vrboska, where we met up with the rest of the group and our guide, Ivana. Vrboska is another of those pesky names which declines like an adjective in Croatian and so, while u Vrboskoj, we walked around the town, saw the new bridge which currently is causing lots of negative comments from the local residents and spotted some other new buildings which were equally unpopularly being built in complementary concrete. We also saw the old fortress church of St Mary of Mercy which was built as a defense against the Ottoman Empire and a place of sanctuary and safety for the people of the town.
The next stop was Stari Grad, where we, saw amongst other things, the Church of St John and learned that under the streets there lay elaborate Roman mosaic floors including, in Vagonj Street, those belonging to a house from the time of the Roman Pharia. A little further south the remains of the western city wall of the Greek Pharos had been unearthed built directly on the bedrock. So it seems likely that the current name of Hvar derives from one of these ancient settlements with the Croatian sound of hv being the closest representation of the ph of Pharia or Pharos, which are themselves both pronounced as the letter F. Although there may be another explanation, this does seem plausible and really how hvar should one be expected to go to prove a point? In future it is planned to uncover some of these mosaics and put them on display under glass but this will have to be done gradually and be carefully monitored to make sure that condensation doesn’t build up and spoil the mosaics.
Lunch was enjoyed at the Konoba Zbondini is Velo Grablje and after a starter and main course of meat, fish or vegetarian, the pudding was a delicious cheesecake topped with lavender cream. In past decades Hvar was a major world producer of lavender until two catastrophic wild fires around the end of the last century put paid to much of this and the island moved on to develop its tourism and move away from agricultural pursuits. In the hillsides around Velo Grablje there are still the remains of the terraces surrounded by dry stone walls where lavender production was carried out extensively although sadly now there is only the odd sign here and there of any such activity. Many of the hillsides are now untended and overgrown and, while once the land was passed down from father to son with the daughters being left the worthless coastal strip, if anything, nowadays a strip of land on the coast would be worth a fortune in comparison with acres of inland agricultural land.
In the afternoon, after lunch, we moved on to Hvar Town, which today illustrates more than anywhere else on the island the huge push for tourism which has taken place here over the past fifty years. It is a buzzing vibrant town filled with visitors from all over the world and bursting with bars, shops and restaurants to cater for them. It is clearly a success – if you like that kind of thing. The town is crowned by two fortresses located high on hills above, and within the town are many beautiful churches and buildings as well as a lace museum in a Benedictine Monastery, where nuns spin the fine thread from the agave plant and make unique works of art that can have a value of hundreds or thousands of pounds.
At the end of this fascinating but exhausting day, we slowly made our way home for a swim and a snack before watching Croatia beaten on penalties by Spain in the UEFA Nations Cup Final, whatever that may be. A highly unsatisfactory end to a highly enjoyable day!!