As we left so early from Krka, by the time we arrived back in the bus station in Split, it was only about midday. We had the whole day, and nearly two weeks in front of us but still no concrete plans. The temperature had soared that day, my back was sweating under the immense weight of my backpack and I was starting to worry that we had no flights booked home, or any idea where we would even be flying back from. Our completely improvised trip was starting to scare us.
Improvised or planned travel…?
We stopped by an internet café to book some flights, as neither of our phones were working or reliable. Slumping down my pack, I expected some kind of relief, but the room was thick with heat and loudly whirring from computers that were clearly very old of age. Our original travel dream was to explore the Balkans, heading South to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina and then Kotor in Montenegro. All year I’d been pining over beautiful photos of these places and their surrounding natural beauty, creating plans and lists and collages (yes, collages). However, the more we searched on Skyscanner for flights back to London from any of these places, or anywhere nearby, the more this dream faded from sight. The prices were extortionate. We realised that improvised, spontaneous travel comes with some drawbacks and our ideas had to be drawn up again from scratch.
By the time we left the internet sauna after nearly an hour of scrolling and researching, we’d successfully booked ourselves onto flights in two weeks time from Venice…
Venice… did you say?
I initially had no plans at all to visit Italy, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar but it seemed like the only cheap flights to London on our selected date flew from Venice, so Venice it was. Everything that we’d planned went out of the window; scrap Montenegro, scrap Bosnia, scrap going South at all. We’d have to start travelling North to catch our newly-booked flights in two week’s time. We wandered around Split only feeling slightly more grounded in our plans, however. We still had no idea what to do next.
I suggested visiting Ljubljana, as it would be almost en route to Italy but neither of us felt like a city break at that moment, in the midday’s heat, covered in sweat and exhausted from our early start that morning. Staring out at the ferries coming and going from Split port, shipping tourists around the offshore islands, it suddenly dawned on me that we should visit the Croatian Island, Hvar. A friend of mine on my French course earlier that year had raved about Hvar and its beautiful beaches. A relax on the beach was exactly what I needed. I quickly convinced Josh it would be a good idea and within half an hour we had tickets to cross the Adriatic Sea to Hvar that very afternoon. Improvised travel suddenly became exciting again.
So to Hvar we went…
The ship to Hvar was unlike any I’d been on before. It was essentially just large room with lines of seats. Everyone faced forward towards three large televisions at the front, where adverts played on a loop. Eat at this restaurant in Hvar, drink at this bar in Hvar, rent a boat from this place in Hvar. Repeat. For two hours straight. I felt like we were being brainwashed.
It took longer than expected to reach Hvar, but I was stunned by how pretty the town was upon alighting the ship. It was different to Split, the buildings seemed smaller but prettier, quainter. Everything seemed elegant and clean and stylish; there were white roses lining the square, white stone architecture and expensive white yachts. You could tell immediately why it was a favourite holiday spot for celebrities.
We’d made no plans where to stay whilst on the island, (improvised again, woops) so we made our way to the tourist centre to ask if there were any campsites, figuring this would be our cheapest option. After finding out that there was a campsite near Stari Grad, another town on Hvar, we headed out. I quickly popped into a hostel to find out what the prices were, but they were pretty expensive per night and the receptionist there told us that all the hostels on the island would be the same. So we made up our minds to camp.
After taking a look at a bus timetable, I realised that the next bus from Hvar town to Stari Grad was in ten minutes, so we hurried off to the bus stop, shuffling quickly like penguins under the weight of our bags.
Love at first glance…
The bus journey was full of twists and turns, inclines and sudden drops. From the window I spotted a glorious bay from above, with arid green bushes dotted all the way down the golden hill to meet a beach with vivid turquoise water that melted into blue. We pinned the spot on our map to come back to later. One of the best parts of travelling without a plan: discovering gems like these and it completely taking you by surprise.
We’d asked the bus driver to tell us when we were near the campsite, and arriving at the Stari Grad Port, he told us to get off. I saw a sign that said that the campsite was a mile down the road so we head off on our way, me with my heavy backpack and Josh with his two heavy backpacks (I have no sympathy, the boy can’t pack properly). The road was long and hot, lined with cars that queued to get on a ferry back to the mainland. After a while we saw a sign that said the campsite was only 100 yards away. Well, the sign lied. It felt like half an hour of sweating and puffing before we reached what looked like could be a campsite. And lo and behold, right outside the entrance… a bus stop… the ‘Stari Grad Campsite’ bus stop. Clearly the bus driver was a sadist and wanted to cause us tremendous pain by telling us to get off a stop earlier.
Camping and illegal fire-making (woops)…
Luckily, the campsite was large and spacious, with plenty of shade from the tall pine trees, and even some slight cushioning from the pine needles that blanketed the ground. It was luxury in comparison to our last campsite, where we slept on sharp rocks and on a slight incline.
Once the tent was completely set up, we began to set up our camp-stove and realised in horror that we were remarkably low on our eco-friendly camping fuel. In order to save ourselves from a slow death from starvation (slight exaggeration as we were actually 10 minutes from the centre of town) we had to divulge our inner Bear Grylls and create an open fire on the campsite floor. We collected three large rocks to create a safe spot in which we could build our fire and used small sticks and pine needles as kindling. It worked well and I was pretty proud at our resourcefulness. Of course, Josh got incredibly over-excited about the fire-making as well.
Our fire created an embarrassing amount of smoke and the little kids walking by stared at us. It wasn’t until two days later that we saw the sign prohibiting campfires, which was probably the cause of all the strange looks from around the campsite. Once the food was cooked, we realised that we’d lost our portable cutlery. After cooking a full meal on a hand-built fire, we had no way of eating the bloody thing. I was suddenly feeling a little less resourceful, having, well… lost our resources.
Friends with (practical) benefits…
At that very moment, we heard English voices return to their tent nearby. We looked at each other and knew that we had to seize the golden opportunity immediately or face the humiliating circumstances of eating our gooey spaghetti with our fingers. I made Josh approach because they sounded Northern (North and South England are avowedly opposed countries, it is widely known). He spoke to the family for a little while and found out about their origins. The mother was Croatian but had moved to Newcastle and met her husband there. The whole family lived in England now but stayed in Croatia during summer. I was impressed with how well the husband and kids could also speak Croatian. The family, obviously knowing the area well, also let us know some locations of the best beaches on Hvar, but unfortunately they also said that they were really only accessible by car, of which we had none. Thus, Josh returned from his hunting trip successfully garnering some cutlery and also some (kind of) useful nuggets of knowledge about Hvar.
That night I went to bed pretty early as I was starting to feel a bit sniffly and ill and hoped that a good night’s rest would do me some good. As I lay in the tent drifting off and feeling pretty thankful to rest after a whole day travelling, planning and more travelling, I thought about our style of travel and whether I liked it or not. Earlier in the day, I was feeling pretty let down by myself- due to not planning or booking any of our transport, I’d basically had to forfeit everything I’d originally wanted to do. However, after the day we’d had, discovering Hvar and its beauty, I wondered if it was really a bad thing. I mean, we’d left our plans open on purpose so that we wouldn’t be restricted with specific dates and times and could go where the wind took us. If that wind took us to Hvar, maybe somehow that’s where we were supposed to be. I was pretty damn excited to explore some of the island’s rugged natural beauty and its more refined towns. Just before I slipped into a deep sleep I figured it out: improvised travel can be indeed be a curse, but one that turns out to be a blessing.
So what kind do you prefer? Making it up as you go along, or following a strict schedule? Some of us like a mix of both styles. Let me know in the comments…
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