Searching for Stones

Hvar Island (29 May 2013)

We saw our first Croatian island today, thanks to the good ferry connections from Split. The honour of being our first Croatian island went to Hvar.

The ferry from Split docked near the town of Stari Grad, whose name literally means “Old Town”. The town was a 20 min walk from the dock. Just outside Stari Grad is the Stari Grad Plain which has been farmed since pre-history. The field layout established by Greek colonists in the 4th century BC is still relatively intact. I had come to the island hoping to walk among the rural scenery.

Yellow flowers welcoming us on the way into town

Yellow flowers welcoming us on the way into town

The town itself was a small sleepy old little town. It was so sleepy that half the time I was there I wished I could take a nap. It was also nothing like the coastal cities on the mainland and was therefore a refreshing change of scenery for us.

Stari Grad marina

Stari Grad

The best feature of the town to me was Tvrdalj Castle. This was the fortified summer residence of a Croatian poet. I did wonder why a mere commoner would need a fortified residence. Too much money at home perhaps? Too many women throwing their money at him along with their bodies because they admired his poetic talents perhaps? Too many men whose wives had thrown their money and bodies at him wanted his blood perhaps? Later I learnt that it was meant to provide shelter for the locals when the Ottoman Turks came attacking.

Although it is called a castle, the building looked more like a quaint country house. But of course it must be noted that the castle structure was markedly different during the poet’s time. Several sections of the original castle had been rebuilt or added on. It was lovely in there and I was enjoying my visit until a bunch of kids came in and destroyed the peace.

Tvrdalj Castle

Tvrdalj Castle

Tvrdalj Castle

Tvrdalj Castle

Castle kitchen

Castle kitchen

Castle garden

Castle garden

Outside the castle

Outside the castle

The Stari Grad Plain is a large green flat piece of land flanked on both sides by hills. E and I decided that we should have an aim in our little expedition and I suggested the remains of the Greek watchtower called Maslinovik. The watchtower is merely a pile of stones now, and the plain is littered with stones everywhere. However, it was the only site in the plain that I had read about, and beggars cannot be choosers. So based on a mere description of the way there that I had read online, and a picture on our smartphones of quite a useless map of the area, we set off on our, probably hare-brained, expedition.

Stari Grad Plain (view near the start of our expedition)

Stari Grad Plain (view near the start of our expedition)

Chapel by the side of the road leading into the plain

Chapel by the side of the road leading into the plain

Inside the chapel

Inside the chapel

We made two attempts to locate Maslinovik. Upon hindsight, we should have given up after our first failed attempt and gone off to explore the rest of the island. But no! I did not know that I had so much determination and focus until that day. I have no idea how I did it but somehow I managed to wrangle an agreement out of E to make the second attempt after lunch. I should have agreed to visit Hvar Town as E had wanted instead. Now I wish E had put her foot down that day!

But that is not to say that the plain was not a nice place for a ramble. It was a very pleasant rural area with fields of olives, grapes and lavender all around, and a lot of stones and little frogs jumping about. The locals we had encountered on the plain were wonderful people. We met this old couple who gave us a ride in their little car back to town after our first attempt. Their kind gesture most certainly made me feel guilty because I did not think that I would have extended the same generosity to strangers if I were them. This was a sort of generosity mostly absent in city folk like me and comforted me from the disappointment I had felt because of my failed first attempt to find the tower.

Olives

Olives

Grapes

Grapes

And my favourite lavender

And my favourite lavender

During our second attempt, and after we had studied the map more carefully, we realised that we had made a turn too soon that morning. That was a red-faced moment for me because the junction where we were supposed to have turned was ground zero from which the Greeks had started developing the agricultural landscape and I had proudly announced at the wrong junction that that was it. I had also gone all “this is such a monumental site!” on E. And E of course trusted me enough to believe everything that I had said.

I had initially thought that it was this junction.

I had initially thought that it was this junction.

Then I found out that it should have been this one... I think.

Then I found out that it should have been this one… I think. There is even a manhole in the middle to mark the spot!

Looking for the remains of a stone tower was not an easy task at all especially if the route was not signposted. I think we got very close to them, but I became quite frustrated with the difficulties involved in locating it and lost heart and all interest at the last moment. It is just a pile of stones anyway! Moreover, we really had to rush back to the dock to catch the last ferry back to Split and it was going to be a long walk back there. I decided that the watchtower was not worth anymore of my energy by the late afternoon.

Remains of farm building

Remains of farm building

Remains of farmhouses

Remains of farmhouses

Between the fields

Between the fields

Before I had decided to abort the mission however, I received one of the biggest scares of my life. I was on the edge of a path strewn with stones on the side of a hill and was looking out over the plain below and taking pictures when I heard a loud hiss behind me. I turned around in time to see the last section of a snake slithering away in a greenish or brownish flash (not quite sure which since I am colour blind) into the rocks on the other side of the narrow path. I did not manage to see its head but what I saw was about a metre of the snake. It was just about 2 metres away from me. Now that sent a chill right through my heart. I was wearing shorts and flip flops that day.

The snake was somewhere on the left among the stones

The snake was somewhere on the left among the stones

We were almost running to get to the dock in time to buy our tickets and catch that last ferry back to Split. It was stressful and I really wish we had gone to Hvar Town instead of making that second attempt. I still feel somewhat guilty about it even today. I do not think that E was very pleased with the trip at all although she hid her displeasure quite well.

And now part of me still wants to find that bloody pile of stones that were the Greek watchtower.

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