13 October 2005

Croatia: Finito

Well, I gave my presentation at Leicester yesterday and it was well received. This means I've got 9 days before heading to Salt Lake City for ASHG in which to convert it into a shorter talk and a poster. And to do all the other stuff which has piled up on my desk. But today I'm granting myself an easy day and finishing my reporting on my holiday (before I forget everything that happened). Here we go...

When we last left our heroes they were bombing along the empty Croatian mega-highway at 160kph. We passed the time by trying to tune in various shitty Croatian and Italian radio stations. This is a good time to highlight a few of the bizarre covers we experienced during our trip, which included:

  • A bluegrass/country rendition of Eric Clapton's After Midnight

  • An adult contemporary version of Heard It Through the Grape Vine

  • An acoustic orchestral version of Prince's Kiss

  • A croatian-language version of the Ronette's Be My Baby

We also played general trivia contests, rotating one person as the moderator/questioner. I discovered that I had a hard time finding reasonable middle ground for difficulty, either being far too easy or far too difficult. Plus it was hard to do categories like Sports (one of my questions that neither person could answer: "The New England Patriots have won three of the last four Superbowls. Name one of the teams they defeated.") where none of us had knowledge in overlapping sports (except that Dave and Rob both watch cricket). Among the facts that I knew: the capital of Switzerland, the nuclearly stablest element, and the artist who recorded "Spin the Black Circle".

We arrived in the southern city of Split in the later afternoon. The outlying areas of the city are dominated by a nasty industrial port and some hideous urban sprawl, but once inside the old city it's actually really nice. We were scheduled to ferry over to Brac that evening, so we had just about an hour to wander around the old city and eat a slice of pizza. The ferry to Brac featured a nice sunset, which meant that the drive across the island to our destination of the resort town of Bol was done in the dark. More curvy roads up and down the mountain in the middle (all these adriatic islands jut very steeply out of the water) and we looked for a place to stay for the night. We investigated the classier resorts, but even this late in the season they were booked solid with German pensioners. In the end we were glad not to stay there as we found a cheap apartment near the town centre.

The town was fairly dead that evening as the tourist season was mostly finished. We shot a couple games of pool in a bar called "Moby Dick's" and were resigned to a fairly quiet night when Rob found out from a couple of local girls that a band was playing an outdoor concert that night. We headed out and wandered aimlessly in the direction of the music until we found a fairly big crowd grooving to the sounds of some Croatian pop act. It turned out to be an end-of-season party for locals, which was pretty cool. Shortly after we arrived the group broke out into a Croatian version of No Woman, No Cry, something I never expected to hear in my entire life.

THe next day finally turned out to be bright and sunny, so we headed down to the beach. We first tried a hotel beach, but some attendand shooed us away after a little while. It turned out that the public beach was nicer and less crowded, anyway. Rob & I went swimming and we just hung out for a while. It would've been nice to stay for another night and day, but by this time we had to get back on the road to bring Dave to Trieste so he could depart.

We spent the afternoon in the car and stopped in Opatija, which was evidently the resort destination of the pre-WWI Austro-Hungarian Empire. We hung out in a club for a while, then Rob got hit on by a crowd of 40 year old German women, then we retired to the hotel where we discovered that after 11PM 50% of Italian TV stations show soft-core porn and the other half show football highlights.

We got on the highway the next morning and spent all of our Croatian money except for a few lipa (the completely worthless hundreths of a kuna) at a gas station on cokes and chewing gum. This became problematic when we were faced with a toll booth en route to the airport. Dave luckily had 10 euros on him, which they accepted, giving him about 60 kune he will probably never use in change. We made it through Slovenia and into Italy before hitting another toll (now that we had spent the only euros we had on us) but thankfully the toll plaza took credit—what a country!

After ditching Dave we drove to Venice where we encountered the ridiculous price differential between Italy and Croatia. We spent more parking the car and ferrying to the island than we were accustomed to paying for a night's stay! It was drizzling by this point so we visited the Doge's Palace and walked through the Bridge of Sighs; a nice bit of culture for the trip. We spent the afternoon wandering around, but decided it was too expensive to stay in the city so we headed out in the evening.

We went to Padua, which isn't too far away because Rob had heard from a friend that it was a fun city. It turns out he was confusing it with Perugia, but it was a fairly nice town. It poured rain for the two days we were there (so much so that it was headline news every night). We looked aroudn the basilicae in the city but there wasn't much happening at night. We found what seemed to be the only bar open, which was a cheesy Australian bar with a fake crocodile on the ceiling (actually, now that I think of it, it was a fake alligator, which means it wasn't even an accurately cheesy Oz bar).

We spent the last day driving around northern Italy a bit aimlessly in the pissing rain. We first tried some thermal baths, but there didn't seem to be anything between the expensive hotels (filled with, you guessed it, German pensioners) and what amounted to a public swimming pool. We then tried to drive through some of the relatively nearby Dolomite mountains, which at first looked like they might be impressive but disappeared as visibility dropped to zero. Rob was tempted to ride the funicula up to Belluno (which was vaguely our destination in the mountains), but by that time I was thoroughly sick of walking around in soaking wet Italian cities.

We did luck out that night in a small town near Trieste (from which we were flying the next day) where we found a relatively cheap restaurant with delicious food. I'll tell you, it's not possible to get tomatoes and mozzarella like that in England. The flight home was uneventful and I was immediately hosed at work (until now, basically) but all told a very worthwhile adventure.

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