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What’s Croatia like?

I sunbathed in the dusty Croatian hell of Heatwave Lucifer this summer.

I saw lizards, hornets, a circling bird of a prey in an empty blue sky and a bear sized dog panting in the shade of small parched trees. A kitten called Mazda lazily batted a dead mouse around on crispy curled grass while my juicy northern European flesh became peppered with mosquito bites.

“It’s not usually like this,” the locals told us as we returned from their shallow rocky seashores with stubbed toes and varnished with perspiration.

“It’s brilliant,” we grinned like mindless English sun-bimbos as our brains boiled stupid in the delicious heat.

Someone wove together slices of Greece, Spain and Italy, hammered them to the coast of the Adriatic with sturdy eastern European nails and called it Croatia.

Sometimes it felt like all those better known mediterranean holiday destinations without the nonsense and sometimes it felt like those places but lacking some upholstery.

20170806_170859We were in the north of the country so the Game of Thrones glamour of Dubrovnik – which doubles as Kings Landing in the TV series – was a seven hour drive out of reach to the south.

At one time a holiday like this might have been planned to avoid driving in such a swelter but the air conditioning in our rental cars was probably the best we had access to all week, so we sauntered down the coast to Pula and Porec anyway.

If you like your streets to be served higgledy-piggledy with old houses stacked high and ornate architecture shouldering for space with the shabbiest of chic then you won’t be disappointed.

20170806_141720There’s a spectacular Roman arena in Porec and Pula has a whiff of Riviera about it but beware the pick’n’mix sweet shops – they charge prices that put UK cinemas to shame, and it takes a lot to shame those guys.

20170806_144638The local currency is the Kuna, and there are about seven Kuna to the pound. Most things are more or less what you would expect to pay for them, apart from cigarettes which are very cheap but we don’t want to think about that do we?

The beaches aren’t sandy but the wide rocky shelves of thigh high sea water could probably lay claim to be the world’s best paddling location. Tiny crabs plucked at my toes but the rocks are sharp and slippery. It is not for no reason that the local shops sell those rubber soled beach shoes.

The big tourist flytrap in the area is Aquapark Istralandia, again the prices are reasonable but not cheap, although I’m not sure I’d even want to go to a ‘cheap’ aquapark. Istralandia is reassuringly well maintained with facilities for all ages.

Mark, by the far the maddest member of our party, threw himself down the tallest chute and reported afterwards that it was “terrifying” with a satisfied grin. Your humble correspondent enjoyed the ‘relax’ pool with jacuzzi bubbles – horses for courses.

Cycling is big in the area but it would be a good idea to pre-plan where you are going to hire your bikes from if you’re out in the sticks.

20170806_145747It’s all good sunbaked medterreneany type stuff but with a sense of more to come in the future.

Pula might be a chill out port for millionaire yacht owners one day and Porec could be a place to get up close and personal with surprisingly well preserved historical gems, but without doubt the weather was the star of our stay.

It was spaghetti western style hot until the last evening when we watched the best thunderstorm I have ever been in roll in from the sea.

The clouds marched in from the horizon on spindly legs of lightning, drawing in the night until its thunderous footsteps passed right over us, draping us with cooling winds and rain.

It was awesome and was the only real reminder of my previous trip to Croatia during what we were then calling the Yugoslav civil war.

I was an impetuous young journalist driving through a blacked out city with Serbian shells dropping in the streets around me.

As strange and terrifying as that experience was, it was nowhere near as loud and spectacular as the send off Croatia gave me the second time.

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