Language and Culture Course Highlights – The Surprising History of Vis
Our week-long Language and Culture Course has been a regular fixture in the Croatian Language School calendar since its pilot back in 2012. These annual trips embody much of our philosophy and are an informal and enjoyable way for students to consolidate and accelerate their learning, dive deeper into Croatian culture, and share tips and fellowship with like minded people. Apart from immersion in the culture of our chosen location for the week, students also receive twelve hours of intensive language tuition, in small groups with native speakers.
Our programmes have embraced a large part of the Adriatic coast, including Orebić on the Pelješac Peninsula, Cavtat, Zadar, Fažana in Istria and the Elaphite Islands. In 2019 we ventured inland for the first time, to Osijek, from where we dipped into the culture and history of Slavonia and Baranja. In 2022 we returned to the coast and focused on the culture and history of the island of Vis. Below you will get a real taste of what our Croatian Language and Culture Course Are All About as Julian Molden, our faithful course participant and blogger, tries to condense the highlights of this year’s week, below:
Our adventure started as we sailed away from Split and a couple of hours later we arrived on Vis. We set off in search of our schoolhouse, which was in the middle of nowhere with beautiful views down to the coast and across open land. It felt almost immediately like a real home. After a lovely lunch nearby, we came back to rest and prepare for the evening party. We set up a spread of food which was really impressive, stood all the bottles up ready to pour and then awaited the appointed time. Bit by bit all the expected guests arrived and were very complimentary about our summer trip base. Everyone sat around eating, drinking and chatting, getting to know each other and setting the scene for the week ahead.
The following day the first excursion started at 08:30 in two Land Rovers driven by knowledgeable, young guides who set off with us on a whistle stop tour of many of the historical military sights of the island. This involved a lot of off-road driving, taking us through the aromatic maquis of Vis, along tracks deep into the heart of the island. Our first stop was at former missile command ARK Vela Glava and a former nuclear bunker, where we ventured far underground and were shown everything, from the hooks for old beds, to a ladder leading up to an escape hatch. Then we moved on to rocket base Stupišće, where military vehicles had been driven in to be re-armed with rockets and were concealed from sight until they were required. The next major stop was the large sea shelter, said to be for Tito’s submarines, although the water levels did not allow these vessels to enter and the corridor of water had been used to conceal military warships.
We had a very busy morning, which finished with a visit to St George’s fortress, which was built by the English commander of Vis, George Duncan Robertson, in 1812, and was named after the British King George III. Once the tour was over our guides took us to our venue for lunch, where we viewed one of the two cricket clubs in Croatia as well as the World War II airstrip.
In our lesson the following morning we started to prepare for our visit to Senko Karuza, later in the day, by reading a couple of his short stories. The first one was about a family photograph, taken at a time when a couple were considering divorce, and the times since, and the second one was entitled “No, I Do Not Want To Wake Up” because the world is an unpleasant place and he would rather stay with his dreams.
After lessons had finished, we all set off down unmade tracks in a large taxi finally arriving at the little cove Molo Trovno where Senko has his restaurant. We were greeted warmly by him and plied with all sorts of spirits as we settled down at tables by the edge of the sea. Some of us grabbed a quick swim before the feast began and then four courses of beautiful food followed, including an aromatic fish soup and all manner of fish which had been freshly caught and prepared for us. The afternoon drifted into evening.
One of the reasons for going to Senko’s restaurant was to hear him recite some of his works, including one of the pieces we had studied in the morning. This helped to create a joyous tone as the evening progressed and led on to singing of Croatian klapa songs. As night began to fall, but before it became too dark for the taxi to come back along the track to find us, the party split up and dispersed in great good humour and by the time we got back home it really was dark and we were all tired out.
Ten o’clock on Wednesday morning saw us all assembling for a group photograph in Komiža harbour before half of us embarked on a modern replica of a traditional Adriatic falkuša and the other half on a RIB speed boat. The intention was that, once we were out of the harbour, the sails on the falkuša would be hoisted and the RIB would provide an escort at a gentle pace. This did not work because the gentle pace invoked a feeling of sea-sickness amongst those on the RIB. Therefore the RIB zoomed off in the direction of the Blue Cave on Biševo while the falkuša made stately progress towards the island.
The Blue Cave is a natural phenomenon whereby the sun strikes the sea bed under a tiny opening in the cave and the blue of the sky is reflected in the water in the cave. In the morning it is light blue and in the afternoon navy. The man-made entrance to this cave is deliberately just sufficient to permit small boats to enter without disturbing this reflection. The result is magical and well worth seeing.
Those on the RIB had already enjoyed this experience before the falkuša had even arrived. So next for the RIB’s passengers was a short visit to the monks’ cave, named after the monk seals who once lived there. And then it was on to Porat beach for lunch. The falkuša finally arrived there about an hour later, having only visited the Blue Cave because this boat was too big to enter the monks’ cave and their time was running short.
After all the passengers had met up again and enjoyed a leisurely lunch, some of them could not resist the opportunity to have a swim from the sandy bay. All too soon it was time to return to our boats for the return journey. This time the passengers who travelled out on the falkuša returned on the RIB and vice versa. Whereas on the outward journey the falkuša had no problem finding a steady breeze, on the return it was becalmed for around forty-five minutes and then our expert crew positioned the boat so that we were able to pick up the breeze and sail back to Komiža.
A Croatian Language School immersion course would not be a Croatian Language School immersion course if it did not contain a wine tasting evening. On Thursday, after our lessons, we went to the first vineyard where we sampled a white Vugava and a red Plavac Mali accompanied by some local delicacies. To check that we had not over-indulged at this stage of the afternoon, we were then driven up to the top of Mount Hum and climbed the final 200 metres on foot. This provided spectacular views of the bay and the town of Komiža.
Having proven our right to continue with the wine tasting, we were driven to some military tunnels near Vis which have been converted for wine storage. The island is riddled with such tunnels, some of which have been put to this good use by wine producers. Here we sampled three different wines. Unusually we started with a dark rosé, which surprisingly was light and refreshing. Then we moved on to their white Vugava and red Plavac, again accompanied by nibbles.
Our plan for the last day of the course took a turn when it was suggested that the morning lesson be held on a boat while we discovered the little bays and inlets on the south of the island. It sounded like a grand idea and in preparation I packed not only my swim things but also my study folder to be prepared for everything. Driving to Vis to collect our boat, our lesson started in the car when Linda asked us to describe the surroundings we were driving through in Croatian. We made a reasonable go at this but by the time we arrived in Vis our lesson had more or less drawn to a conclusion. We clambered onto our small RIB and Captain Dr John pulled expertly away and we were off. What with working out where we were going, seeking shelter from the sun and all manner of other considerations, the idea of a lesson floated away with the wash we were creating.
Our first stop was Milna, where we found a free pontoon where we could pull up and moor, which, with a little help from a stranger swimming nearby, we managed to do. It was surely time for a little reviver, so we made straight for the beach café and settled in for beers and iced tea. Then it was time for a swim from the second sandy beach we have found on our travels this week. This was a real treat and the cool water refreshed us.
The arrangement was for one of the afternoon students, who was staying nearby, to come and collect Linda to take her to the second, more structured, lesson of the day in his car and, sure enough, we soon spotted a yellow hat with said student underneath it making its way towards us. As there was no vehicle access to the beach where we were, Captain Dr John whisked Linda and the student around the headland to his car and then returned to moor once again in his spot, this time single-handed.
After lunch in the same beach café, the three remaining intrepid sailors explored some more of the southern Vis coastline before returning to Vis town where Captain Dr John again moored us successfully without assistance.
In the evening all the remaining students met for the farewell dinner in a restaurant right by the sea in Komiža. At the dinner we discovered that we would all be taking the same ferry back to Split at midday the following day, so would be able to enjoy each others’ company for a little longer before we all returned to our normal lives.
At the end of a wonderful week we prepared to return to normality and we all made our way to Vis port in good time to catch the midday ferry. On board, we found places to sit, either on deck or in the coffee shop but, as the time passed, we all ended up congregating together in the coffee shop. As Split drew closer, we became a little thoughtful realising the last moments of our week together were fast approaching. Email addresses were exchanged and farewell photos were taken and then it was time to return back to the hold to jump back into our cars and off to our different destinations.
We already look forward to next year’s Croatian Language School summer Language and Culture trip.
How Hvar can we go!