Isola/Izola, Slovenia

Well, finally we have passed through Croatia and are in Slovenia.  There really is a different feel here.  For one thing, we are back in the land of the Euro, versus the Kuna, which is the name of a small, weasel-like animal printed on the coins of Croatia.  The sea is a different colour blue, more navy blue than the crazy turquoise colour of the Adriatic, and the sky is lighter.  This combined with the coolness in the air really reminds me of home.

As we are waiting to be moved from the customs dock to our site, a friend and I go for a wander through town.  We find a delicious orange and chocolate ice cream for 1 Euro a scoop, a nice park on the point with gorgeous clear water, and a church on the high point with brightly-coloured adobe buildings around it. The people are immediately much more friendly, and the whole place feels really contented and relaxed.  We are looking forward to a glorious six days here.

The site is at the end of a labyrinth of boats, and requires another impressive parking job by the Captain.  In the end we are parked diagonally in a corner with both ends nearly touching the walls, it is that tight.  At the back, the rudder is slipped between two anchor chains that form a triangle of support for the dock’s gangway.  To the starboard side are moored several small boats and a concrete mooring block just under the water’s surface.  It is quite a feat to place a 90ft. boat so precisely in such a tight space, so further kudos to Captain Paul Kirby for his impressive maneuvering skills.

On the second day, a group of five of us rent a car and went for an epic drive.  We find a castle that is built into a cave with 45 kms of Karstic caves, like the ones we saw in Croatia, forming an underwater highway under the mountain range.  These have been turned into tourist attractions, which due to our time constraints we didn’t pay for, but we did explore the castle, which had various displays of the lifestyles and implements of that time.  This was nowhere near as well done as the display at Krka National Park, but the whole environment was very beautiful; a little settlement tucked into a green valley at the feet of these rocky cliff faces and caves.  There was even a jousting strip with a viewing box where they hold events to celebrate historic life.

We drove further along a lovely scenic route charted out on the map towards our destination, a gorgeous part of a river to the north of Isola.  As the day neared to a close, we pulled off the highway and found a campsite.  Although the man was nice, the sites were 10 Euros per person, and we decided we didn’t need to pay to sleep out under the stars, so in spite of the descending darkness, we pushed on.  By some beautiful synchronicity, we found the absolutely perfect spot that answered everybody’s requirements and prayers.

It was a lovely sandy spot right by the river and under the shelter of some leafy green trees.  It even had a fire ring and a little bench already there!  We had brought potatoes, red onions, oranges and olive oil to make a rustic salad our Aussie cook had learned while in Greece.  We wrapped potatoes and onions and some corn we had nipped from a field along the way in tinfoil, and while they cooked in the fire, shared a nice bottle of sweet wine I had purchased from a household winery in Novigrad.  After a satisfying meal, we set our sleeping bags up in a square around the fire, and fell into a cozy and fresh camp sleep.  By chance, there was a small church just above us on a hill whose hourly chimes felt sweet and homey.

The next day, after rising, tidying, and a light breakfast and stretch, we headed on our way.  We were conscious of the time, as we were meant to be back at the car rental shop by noon, and had work to do that day on the boat, but we didn’t let it curb our enjoyment of the stunning landscape we had found ourselves in.  We had driven quite close to the Alps, and the countryside was the most vivid green I have ever seen.

At a turning in the road where we were meant to cross back over the river towards the highway, those in the car unanimously agreed to head upward instead, on impulse.  We rose instead into the foothills of the Alps along a very tight switchback road, arriving finally in the sweetest village I have ever seen.  It was the kind of place you could park your car and just walk away from the outside world and never miss a thing.  We decided that this was the place to have coffee.

We found a super sweet little bed and breakfast, which smelled like chicken soup when we walked in and were delighted to also see a cappuccino machine!  Although the coffee was a little weak, the view was breathtaking.  I was so excited to be so close to the Alps, which I have read and wondered about since I was a little girl.  Now I was actually here!!  It was easily as beautiful and impressive as BC’s coastal mountains, and surpassed all my expectations.

On our way back we drove through many picturesque small towns and valleys that can only be described as verdant.  I have never seen such brilliant greens, and this coming from a native of beautiful BC is a statement indeed.  The nicest town we passed was called Kanal.  It straddled the river with the classic stone buildings I am now becoming familiar with in this area, and had lovely rises and falls throughout the small town, surrounded by this magnificent countryside.  I would love to go back there.

On the way back we took a stop to jump in the river.  The water was very milky light green and shockingly cold.  It was a good way to wake up and refresh ourselves from all the driving, which in all turned out to be about 4 hours each way.  We were late getting back, but it was so worth it!  We packed so much into those 12 short hours, and saw so much of the country.

When we got back there was still time for us to complete our chores as part of the Amara Zee appreciation day, during which we lavished care and attention on the more elaborate needs of the boat that has carried us like a big mama turtle on her back all this way.  Then we had a fun drive in a kiddies/tourist train, which we all packed into with some on the roof.  We had a tour of the town, and then arrived at the billboard on the outskirts of town that advertised the show.  We had fun taking a group picture in front of the billboard and then came back to the boat.

That night we had the most magnificent meal of the trip so far.  Several of the sponsors have treated our group to meals, as part of their hospitality, but the meals have ranged, in general, from monotonous to atrocious.  This meal, however, was so delectable, even the cooks in our group were raving and drooling.  It was served somewhat like tapas, with many different cold and warm dishes, mostly seafood, but also some cheese, veggies and delicious, bottomless wine.  The hospitality also was wonderful.  It was a meal not soon to be forgotten and the most wonderful ending to a magical day.

On another occasion, a group of us tried to go to hot springs, which, according to the tourist information lady, was at literally the other end of the country.  We were all tantalized by the possibility of warm spring water and a natural setting, so set off on the drive.  When we arrive at our destination, we found it to be a spa therapy centre for old aged people!  Imagine our shock, after sitting for 3 hours in the car.  However, it was a remarkable thing for me, to drive from one end of the country in less than the time it takes me to drive home for Christmas to see my family who live in the same province as me!

We quickly recovered our aims and redirected our mission to the capital, Ljubljana, which was a place that I really wanted to see.  We had an amazing meal, maybe the first meal I have paid for since leaving Vancouver 3.5 months ago, and then walked briefly through the city and towards the squat, which was meant to be a place of art and culture.  We found an area with tons of art on the walls, graffiti, mosaics and collage.  There were a couple of bars; inside one was a live dj with really interesting projections, and a table with artists selling their comics and various other work.  The area was really interesting, and in general, I found Ljubljana to be full of art.  A very interesting city, and I’m glad I went.

Isola also had the first coin-operated laundry we had encountered since leaving home.  I did my laundry in the super efficient, state of the art washing facilities with a great sense of appreciation, after washing my clothes by hand for the past 3 months.  It was brilliant, made all the more special by a great connection with the lady owner, who also folded all my clothes when I showed up late to pick my clothes up.  What a sweet treat!

The people in this town were definitely our best audience.  Most of them stayed until the end, and cheered demonstratively at the end.  In general though, the people here were so warm.  As a Canadian I really noticed the absence of the precognition of fear around social rejection that creates such a chilly atmosphere of correctness in our public spaces (though certainly not our private ones, as people are wonderful and warm under this protective surface).

We all had a lovely time here, and were sad to say goodbye, but onward we sailed this Tues. morning towards Lignano, Italy.

Advertisements
| 1 Comment

Biograd, Zadar, and Sali, Croatia

Biograd and Zadar had very similar feels to them, both towns are about the same size, and displayed the more European influence that I am starting to equate with the more northern part of the Dalmatian coast.  Zadar had some interesting history in that it had been bombed quite extensively on two occasions during various wars, and so lost a lot of its old buildings and history.  During the last bombing, it’s residents were locked within their own homes without adequate food or water for 3 months during the conflict.  It is yet another example of how war is so destructive, not just of physical landscape and the immediate impact on people’s lives, but also on invisible things like history, and a sense of place, and trust.

We had a very wavy spot here, so much so that we completely modified the show to eliminate the more technical flying sections, which shortened it by at least 20 mins.  But the exposure was westward, so we had lovely long sunsets, and also great swimming here off of the boat, due to being right on the open coast, and not tucked into a little bay like in most places.  The bays shelter us from waves, but also trap all the scum from the water, and foster the growth of algae, etc. making the swimming not as nice.

Zadar’s most amazing features were an organ built into the seawall that made sound generated by the wind produced by the passing waves.  It was quite a long stretch of the seawall, and collected groups of people at all times of the day who would sit or lay with their heads against the openings and listen to the sighing swells of notes and sounds.  It was quite special, but it would have been nice to see more of the inner workings of the organ.  Also at this location was a giant solar panel built into the sidewalk.  It generated enough power not only to produce a fun light display at night of moving patterns of different colours across the panel, but also to power the street lights along the waterfront.  Also in Zadar were the remains of Roman columns from the forum at the centre of the town right near, of course, the church.  These were a very cool thing to see.

Biograd did not have many distinguishing features, other than offering us the first hot shower we had had since leaving Tivat, Montenegro on July 20th.  The marina facilities were clean and spacious.  We were all blown away, and used them extensively to scrape away unwanted body hair (no shaving on the boat, due to finicky filters, etc.), soothe sore muscles and just generally pamper ourselves.  What a treat!!  I also finally bought a mask and snorkel here, which I had been deliberating on for a while, so that was exciting, and bought a sarong to use as a curtain on my bed in my shared room with three people.

The island of Sali was I think my favourite stop on the tour so far.  The town had a small, country feel without the overblown tourism of the other islands we have been.  The water was beautifully clean, the best swimming right off the boat that we’ve had, with the colour so magnificent and clear.  We had a lovely group dinner here, compliments of our sponsor and this place showered us with donations, given spontaneously by the residents.  They brought by baked goods, a big bag of potatoes, and wine, as well as a huge pot of cooked spaghetti.  How lovely!!  Somehow it is so much nicer to receive something that has been made for you, than just money, it really feels like it comes from the heart.  And isn’t it interesting that the country folk, and those with usually the least money, are the most giving.  There was an absolutely gorgeous seaside walk here on a dirt trail around the point, and the setting was just so peaceful and beautiful, it was idyllic.  None of us wanted to leave, but onward we sailed to our next port: Novigrad.

This was the longest sail we have had so far, 24 hours.  The moon was nearly full and absolutely gorgeous, casting milky light into the sky and it’s cool clarity on the sea.  The amount of light cast by the moon made staying up for the night watches much easier.  We played music, and laid in a heap star gazing and sharing stories.  At one point we saw some strange lights in the sky, which we chocked up to military activity, but of course at first we thought it might be a UFO.  The night was so moist that the water was beginning to pool on the decks, but I slept out anyway.  I just couldn’t bring myself to go inside after the fresh beauty of the night.  When I woke up, we were just arriving at Novigrad.

| Leave a comment

Trogir and Sibenik, Croatia

While our watch was working on our sail from Makarska to Trogir, I was reading the cruising book as per my normal routine while doing the navigation portion of my shift, to learn more about our destination city.  The book said the best and most usual approach is from the W, because that is where the marina is, and that the bridge connecting E and W no longer raises to allow boat traffic.  When I checked on the charts, I noticed that we were scheduled to approach Trogir from the NE, so when I informed the captain of this oversight I saved us an extra 3 hours sail, as we would have had to backtrack and then circle around the large island.  It also made the next leg of our journey, onward to Sibenik shorter, as it was more direct from the NE side of the bridge.  It was a good feeling to actually be that helpful while on my watch, so that was pleasing.

Coming into the port was dramatic.  Just as we entered the narrowing of the approach to the harbour, the captain lost the use of one of the props.  We were sitting dead in the water for a suspended period of tenseness, while the wind steadily pushed us farther into the harbour towards outcoming boats, and some that were anchored in the approach area.  It was nerve racking; without both props, we would lose half of our maneuverability, making docking nearly impossible.  We circled around with our one prop, and radioed another large ship sitting in the harbour approach to ask if we could use his inflatable as a push boat.  Thankfully, they complied readily.

The British crew member came to our rescue like James Bond, racing ahead to recon the docking location, and then racing back in time to help push our bow in towards our point of destination.  We were due to dock alongside a touring yacht which was already in our spot, and though the docking went amazing well, considering the circumstances, there was a slight lag in the communication between the steering of our large boat and the aid needed by the small inflatable, so we came in a bit fast, and with a little too much angle towards the shore.  Our bowsprit was just above the height of the nice wooden railing of the other boat, and as it passed over left a long scratch in the shiny veneer.  Fortunately though, this gave them something to push against, and they helped redirect our boat so that it landed alongside.  Apart from the frustration of the crew on the other boat not understanding our urgent English commands regarding the order of the ropes and the complex directions relative to securing them, we otherwise came alongside without too much hassle.  One of our highly competent crew members was quick to refinish the place in the railing that had been scraped, and found out that the boat was due to be refinished soon anyway, so the scratch was a minor issue.

Trogir is a tiny island between the mainland city and a larger island, with bridges on both sides connecting them.  As with most of these ports, the old city is on this peninsula, and boasts amazing history, with the entire island being covered with cobblestone streets, ornate stone buildings and narrow streets open only to foot passengers.  There was an amazing church in the main square from the 12th century.  It was huge, and filled with different forms of art built right into the church: red stone basins for water, sculptures, motifs on walls and ceilings, ornately carved mahogany wood.  The ceilings were high and vaulted, and it had a three story clock tower.  It had an immense feeling to it, and I tried to imagine how much more impressive it would have been back when it was built, as it must have dwarfed everything around it.

Unfortunately, the old city was crawling with tourists: sunburns carrying credit cards and cameras, and sporting bad fashion.  It was hard during the day time to get any sense of the surroundings due to the sheer numbers of people, but later in the day, when the crowds thinned, you could find yourself quite alone for periods of time in some of the back streets, and then there was a really neat atmosphere.

On the waterfront where we were moored, there is a strip of expensive restaurants, vendors booths with the same old trinkets we have seen everywhere, and buskers with the same schtick (marionettes that play music, accompanied by a small ghetto blaster, for example).  In the evening we are treated to the battle of the bands, as clubs on both sides of the water blast their respective music, which carries easily over the water.  It’s a bit much, over all, though just around the corner there is a lovely breezy bit of green space with a magical tree that has grown into and back out of the earth a few times, creating a fun climbing sculpture.

Sibenik however, presented a wonderful experience.  As a larger city, it was a little less overwhelmed with tourism and more plugged into the purpose of the country.  There was a sizeable old town, with some amazing monuments, including the largest all stone cathedral in the country, the Cathedral of St. James, which I didn’t enter, cheaply refusing to pay the minor fee.  There was also the hilltop St. Ana Fortress, which we snuck into from the graveyard that was also perched high overlooking the city and the harbour below.  In the morning, we enjoyed coffee on an outdoor patio restaurant beside an herb garden, which we later discovered was the medieval garden of St. Lawrence’s monastery, and one of the up and coming sites in the city.

The coastline here is very convoluted and interesting.  There was a boat taxi to a beach on an island, past a fortress in the Sibenski Canal that departed from right beside the boat.  My new Lonely Planet guidebook, which I procured with the help of two Croatian friends who are visiting the boat, tells me that this is the fortress of St. Nikolas, which endures from the 15th century, when the city was under Venetian rule.

But by far the most spectacular thing we did in this area was the Krka National Park.  We had a spectacular last minute escape from the boat in the early hours of the morning after a late night, and barely made it to the bus.  We were greatly aided by a Croatian girl, whose grandfather lived near the park and she was baptized in the church in what was now a national park, so this place held a special place in her life and she was happy to share it with us.

The bus took us to a small town at a place where the river starts to widen, and near to the sea.  While we waited for her to gather information about the park, we had a nice swim in the mixed salt and fresh water of the estuary, my first fresh water swim since arriving in Europe in late May.  We took a really nice ride in a riverboat to get to the park, and after she orchestrated a great group rate for us, we were in!

The main attraction of the park is a series of waterfalls which are formed by “Tufa”; mineral formations from the water that then collect enough soil for plants to grow on them, making a cascading series of waterfalls which move around green tufts growing magically right in the middle of the falls.  There was quite an extensive series of pools and falls, with the nicest swimming I’ve had in my time here at the bottom, with perfect temperature fresh water, and in the flow and spray from the special cleansing energy of the falls.

There was a beautiful boardwalk around the lip of the falls through a green and shady forest.  There were numerous pools with groups of fish suspended Zen-like in the current, with only the slightest movement to keep them in line with the sweet spot that allowed the current to slip around their smooth bodies with the least amount of effort on their part.  There was also the reconstruction area of a hydroelectric dam that was the second of it’s kind to be built in history (the first being American), it was the first to actually be operational, and powering the town and surrounding area with electricity.

A real highlight of this already amazing experience was the historic display of traditional use of this area for milling flour.  There were 6 or 7 buildings showing different aspects of traditional life, with people dressed in period costumes showing us how they worked.  There was a blacksmith’s bellows, an old stone house set up to show how the people would have cooked and lived, and then information on the fishing and farming of the areas.  The flour mills were the most amazing though, with large stone wheels being turned by the water, routed under the floor of the building.  Then next door was a giant washing machine made of two huge timber hammers driven by a waterwheel, with the water flowing through the room and past the clothes to flush them clean, and a gorgeous cave-like natural bathing room, with water flowing through different pools and out by a river along the wall.  I was really impressed by the authenticity of the displays, and how un-commercial they looked, and loved that all were operational with people demonstrating their function.  It was very interesting.

| 2 Comments

Ploche and Makarska, Croatia

Ploche was a fairly ordinary looking town, which was a welcome relief after the hubbub of Hvar’s tourism. As we approached the inlet, the first thing we saw was a huge industrial dock for aluminum and coal, with loading cranes and a train yard nearby. To my great excitement and pride, it was I at the helm during that approach, and I got to guide the Amara Zee into the narrowing channel that was the approach to Ploche. The excitement continued even after the captain took over the helm from me, as the mooring site was closer than we had expected, and on our starboard (right) side. Since we always dock on the port (left) side, we did a dramatic, high speed basically tail skid into place. Our watch was on ropes, so I was standing at the back of the boat, with the wind blowing into the horrified look of amazement on my face as the back end of the boat careened towards the solid wall of the dock. It was a perfect maneuver, and we landed with aplomb right in our spot.

As with nearly every town, there was a group of old men clustered on the nearby bench all discussing exactly how things should be done, etc. (I think they are following us!), pointing, calling out directions in Croatian. Our crew, and probably every boat’s crew, is under strict instructions to follow only the captain’s commands during docking and leaving, so this would be an unhelpful activity even if they weren’t speaking a language we didn’t understand. However, they were there to witness this magnificent parking job, and the captain received enthusiastic shoulder claps for this fancy driving, and seemed spritely and pleased with himself. It was a great entrance, to arrive skidding up to the dock with a 90ft. sailing vessel. Nicely done ☺

This mainland town had the signature Adriatic inlet, with all manner of small boats tied up Balkan style, front on to the break wall with a line or two to the shore and a line to an anchor at the back. Because of the shape of the inlet, this town also had water bordering it on two other sides as well, with a nice shady swim spot on one, (though its northern exposure made it quite windy), and the other connected by a salt water canal from our inlet to a waterway a little further south along the coast line.

We had a lovely group dinner here, compliments of our sponsors, and every one had fun dressing up to go out. We were served meat platters with pork chops and lamb sausage, fries and salad, with all the wine or beer we could drink. In fact, although I left early, I heard that for those who stayed, the brandy bottle came out, and they were there late enjoying the wonderful hospitality of our host restaurant owner until the responsibility of finishing it had been fulfilled.

The people were the friendliest of anywhere we have been so far. Immediately upon arriving we got the impression that they knew we were coming, and were warmly curious. The locals continually approached us, with none of the usual aversion to stranger, or even respectful distance that you find in many places. And when it came time to do the show, they were a wonderful audience. Warm, accessible, appreciative; they came with their families, and most stayed for the entire thing, coming up afterwards to shake our hands and offer donations. Even though I got sick with food poisoning just before the show, and had the hardest time performing I think I ever have had in over 18 years on the stage, I couldn’t help staying out afterwards just to receive their wonderful energy.

After the show we struck and packed up the boat, doing it in 1.25 hours instead of the 2.5 it took us the first time. We were proud of that. In the morning we sailed for Makarska, which is where I sit now, in the quiet shade of a hilltop sanctuary with a small square stone church dedicated to St. Peter. It rests on a keyhole shaped peninsula that juts out into the Adriatic, gorgeously clear, peacock blue and jade green waters lapping on all sides.

To the right of me, the beaches around the coastline are wall to wall with sunbathers, like pink bacon, they soak in the sun on colourful beach towels or under bright umbrellas. The beaches in that direction must stretch for more than 2 kms, and there are people as far as I can see. Bordering the beach is a temporary village of vendor’s booths selling tourist trinkets, food, t-shirts and cups, small rides, etc.. Ahead of me, in the open waters, there are numerous parasailers , with colourful chutes. In town there is a funny bronze sculpture of a man and a woman, boasting over a hundred years of tourism. The woman’s right breast is polished shiny by all the hands that have touched it after posing for a photo. From what I gather, this place is a destination for more local tourism from other parts of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia.

On the left, the water dips into a little bay, which borders the old town of Makarska, and forms the shipping port where we are moored. Tour boats come in daily that do runs to the outlying tourist destinations of the island of Hvar, and Bol beach, among others. They moor to each other side by side in a big line; we are literally hemmed in on all sides by boats. The coastline continues to the left around a rocky bluff, and there is an absolutely beautiful nature trail along the cliff top that follows the water through a breezy pine forest. It passes a seaside cave about 40m deep which has been turned into a bar: quite the novelty, then continues on for a good 30min. walk or so, before terminating in a clothing optional beach. This is a secluded clamshell shaped beach with cliffs on all sides and a sweet little shady area for people to retreat to from the sun. The atmosphere is very low key and tolerant.

But in fact, clothing seems fairly optional almost everywhere. On the crowded beaches, it seems to be only topless for girls, but only just around the corner is a spot for those who prefer to be nude, and rather than impose their preferences on each other like they do in N. America, people just seem to choose their locations. It is so nice to be able to swim in these lovely waters au natural.

This town has a reputation for being one of the biggest party towns in Croatia. The streets are noisy until dawn with revelers, and then the sound manufacturing is taken over by the morning buzz of scooters, street sweepers and business traffic. It’s almost cacophonic, and yesterday I had to give up my preference of sleeping on the deck in order to actually get a full night’s sleep. However, as with all things, when taken in their right place and at the right time, most things can be enjoyed.

Yesterday a small group of us went on an absolutely lovely and challenging hike up the coastal mountains that back the town. I am told they are the longest mountain range in Croatia, and a large portion of it is protected park area. Their looming presence behind and above the town reminds me of Vancouver, especially the way the weather catches on them. I love the way you can track the Earth’s formational history and tendencies through them. We journeyed up a well-formed track to a ranger’s hut, where the parkie told us about the botany of the area and where to walk the trails.

We walked up to a fortress built up against a cave in the mountain’s lower with history dating back to the defense against the Turks in the 1700’s. It overlooked a sweet little church, this one dedicated to St. Antony, the landscape below and finally the sea. The windows were reinforced with aging timber, and some of the rock had fossilized wood and plant matter in it, as if it had been made of clay.
We rested in the cool of the fairly small space behind the old rocks of the fortress wall, and tried to imagine what it might have been like to be behind those walls in a defense situation. Were there women and children crouched in the cave that receded into the rock? Did they have supplies? It must have been a very scary time.

Our walk continued on along the foothills of the mountain through various scree terrains, and past many a fortuitous fig tree, upon which we gorged happily until our fingers were sticky with the juices. The plants and trees here are what we would consider exotic back in N. America, with fig, olive, pomegranate, and rosemary and oregano growing wild and plentiful. Finally, after a good 3.5 hours of walking, we ended up at the beach and soothed our aching feet in the luscious water, placing smooth flat stones warmed by the sun between our toes to open them back up after being cramped in our shoes. It was a very satisfying day.

The night before was an Independence Day celebration for Croatia, and they set up a series of bbq’s right in front of our boat. As the evening came they cooked delicious mussels in giant round vats, stirring them with long spoons, and wearing matching striped shirts with traditional beret-style hats. They also cooked squid on the bbq, and whole fish, which were so fresh they were sweet, and tasted of the sea. There was live music and enormous crowds, which were fun to watch from the boat for a time, but then after the fireworks it felt time to choose our own scene for a bit of solidarity, so our group wandered out into the night life of Makarska to find our place in it.

We ended up at a bar, which had patrons sitting in the outside seats, but not a soul inside, so the 20 or so of us moved into the empty bar and took it over. We danced and reveled to our hearts’ content until all hours of the night, with the bar pretty much to ourselves. It was a grand time.

Our first show here, 7th in our tour, was last night and went exceedingly well. Despite not having our usual delivery of chairs for the public to sit on, most of the audience stayed until the end throughout the 1.25 min. show. We are getting stronger and more grounded, and the show is beginning to be fun. It has an excellent flow, with just enough rests and work, and good pacing of fast and slow, and is not too long. People really seem to like it, although there are some potentially challenging political views and quite convoluted language. Although the show is sung in English, there are Croatian subtitles, but I think there is enough to look at without, and people seem to be able to if not get the story from the movement, at least be able to make something up that pleases them.

We do our second show tonight and then tomorrow sail for Trogir.

| Leave a comment

Vis and Hvar, Croatia

The island of Vis has been inhabited since the Stone Age. In 397BC, Greek settlers founded a colony there called Issa. In time, Vis became part of the Roman Empire, and eventually came under the control of Venice, which was its biggest architectural influence.  In the Second World War it became a military base for the partisan navy, during which time foreigners were not allowed within 300 metres until 1989. As a result, it has not been as spoiled by major tourist developments, and still profits from agriculture, fishing and viniculture, which has been part of its history for 2000 years. It is a stunning monument to the past, with the stone bases of Roman baths still present just outside of town, and sparkling clean azure Adriatic Sea water on all sides.

Our show there went well. As an international tourist destination, it afforded us the opportunity to collect much more by way of donations than in the more rural area of Ston, or the small town of Tivat. We only stayed for a short time in Vis, though I did squeeze in a nice hike to a tower on a hillside and a few town explorations.  We are getting faster at the break down and set up that are part of this whole experience (for which we often stay up very late), as well as the sailing, for which we often get up early, or even in the middle of the night.

Hvar, by contrast, has been encouraging tourism since the mid 19th century, and is now a popular holiday destination. The intense amount of people and tourist commercialism made it a challenging place to be. At 10:00 at night, the square was buzzing with at least 500 people, and it continued like that into the wee hours of the morning.  But if you walked a little ways in each direction it was possible to get beyond the tourist strip. We discovered a beautifully clean sea on all sides with the rocky access and urchins, and bathing tops optional for women, typical of all Croatian swim sites so far.

It is also a traditionally an agricultural and fishing island, and the town is famous for it’s lavender, honey, olive oil and wine.  There are vendor stalls with the same array of offerings in each one, Hvar lavender pouches, oil, and satchels. The nights were balmy, with a warm, soft breeze, like a hug with no timeline, and the cobblestone streets were filled with wafts of lavender.  With streets shut down to vehicle traffic, and all the buildings made of stone, it is picturesque and historic.

As with Vis, there are influences from many different eras. During its time of Viennese rule, it served as the government’s island centre, leaving behind an arsenal, town walls, and a government palace. During subsequent French rule, a theatre was built on top of the arsenal, and boasts the title of oldest open theatre, in operation since 1612. They also constructed a fort on top of the hill above the seaside town. When we visited, we got in for free, and explored the old prison, a museum displaying dishes from Middle Asia, recovered from shipwrecks, and the flag tower, which afforded us a windswept view of the beautiful port town below.

Though touristy, the town has a very interesting presentation, with uneven, narrow streets and wandering offshoots sloping up the hill towards the fortress. We pass a traditional bar that smells of leather and is like a low ceilinged cave, decorated with large keg barrels and timber floor. It offers only two types of wine: red or white, and a selection of tasty local delicacies such as cheese and prosciutto. Further up is a man in traditional dress: Capri style pants with sandals, and a while pirate dress shirt. He is slicing ham from a cured haunch, which is commonly seen in the markets, and tells us in response to our request to look around, “feel yourself like you are at home”. We laugh, and do.

Our first show is cancelled due to rain. Coming home from a restaurant situated halfway up the hill on the way to the fortress, there is rainwater rushing from all the horizontal streets and rooster tailing around the corners of the vertical streets, to run in rivers down the cobblestones. The sky just opens up, and pours a small sea on the land below of clear running water.

The next day our show goes fairly well, in spite of trepidation over the rockiness of this location and how it will affect the aerial components. It is always a little challenging to get back into the show after the mental break and hats change of sailing, and arriving at a new location. But doing the show again gives us a sense of jubilation at being in contact once more with our art. We are happy, and feel really connected to each other, and I have the feeling that the magic of co-creation and adventure are only just beginning in a way. I am grateful that we have another whole month and a bit for this to develop, and at the same time have the sense that this time will pass amazingly quickly. What a unique and special experience we are all sharing!

After the show, we continue to play music on the ship’s big sound system, dancing ecstatically in the little park across from where the boat is moored. We attract quite a little group of music appreciators, as the other music being blasted around the town late into the night is unoriginal techno. For a gorgeous suspension of time, we dance, revel, smile, laugh and cavort, the life of the town, until the closest club calls the police with a noise complaint and they come roughly to shut us down. “Do you have a license to throw a party in the park?” Rhetorical question?

The following night we do a make up show, which is stronger than the first in spite of having a smaller audience. The kids are our best customers, lining the stonewall in front of the ship with their legs kicking over the side, and staying raptly engaged right until the very end. Afterwards we pack up the show and prepare to sail the following morning. This process is becoming smoother and smoother.

I am told that this next location is much more rural, and may not be as open to receiving our show as the international audiences of Hvar and Vis. I am, however, willing to give it a fair shot and make up its own mind about us. After the incessant noise and commercialism of Hvar, a more rural setting will be a welcome contrast. At this point in the tour, the act of simply running through the show is an important one for the cast, as we are still developing our understanding of its message and impact, so as to better fulfill our roles in it.

| 1 Comment

Ston, Croatia

Ston, Croatia is a lovely country town, and a welcome break from the construction zone of Porto Montenegro in Tivat. We motored for 12 hours north up the coast overnight, splitting up the journey into 4 hour watches (we are unable to sail, due to the scaffolding that supports the giant puppet heads in the show being a permanent structure on the starboard side of the ship, and would prevent us from tacking to the left).

We were all happy to leave Tivat.  After two month of being stationed there, and the intensity of the production period all leading up to this next step, it was our reward to sail away from that harbour!   We first went around the corner to Kotor, to gas up the boat, and sign out of Montenegro, then we were on our way by about 10pm.

My watch had the 2am-6am shift, a difficult one for the broken sleep, but magical to be awake on the boat as it moved through the night. The environment was stripped of the usual vibrant spectrum of colours offered by the sun, and presented itself as varying densities of blue/black velvet. Thick, viscous velvet slops against our hull as the boat slips through the water into the darkness. The mounds of velvet to our right represent the shore, its outline visible against the soft velvet of the sky, that stretch up to the gems of stars glowing sweetly above us.  Even the air seems velvety, as a slight mist hangs silverish in the night air.  This state is suspended for hours, as I sit with fellow watch mate at the bow position with a strong light and a radio to site for obstacles not visible from the stern. We listen to music, chat, and breathe as we glide forward under the stars.

For the next hour I take the job of recording our progress on the chart, and entering the engine stats in the log book. I enjoy this opportunity to practice my chart skills, and to visually track our journey on the map and calculate our speed of travel. Then, in the last hour I take my first turn at the helm.

As the sky begins to lighten to a soft, steely blue, and the water reflects the dawns first pinks, I am proudly standing at the wheel of the Amara Zee, steering her hulking body with all her valuable contents: people sleeping with all their energy and dreams wrapped up in her belly, the story and work of our show, it’s trappings packed neatly and tied to her decks. There is a learning curve with her responsiveness, which keeps me active at the wheel, sharpening my alertness to the approaching day, the unfolding dawn’s light, and the break of promise that comes with a new day.

We arrive to Ston in the late morning through a long fjord.  After tieing up, we find ourselves in a peaceful country location with lovely fresh wind sweeping down the valley of the fjord, and green hills rising up on either side.  In front of us, at the foot of steep mountain, is the tiny town of Ston.  True to its name, the buildings are all made out of stone, and blend into their environment like boulders in a field.  Above the town, a large “W” or stone ramparts ascend up the mountainside and around the corner to a turreted fortress on the top topped by a flying flag.  Further evidence of the recent upheaval in this area.

We quickly discover that Ston is a small town amongst many along this stretch of Croatian coast.  Accessible by car from the capital, Dubrovnik, which is about 2 hours to the south of here, it is visited by tourists on out trips from their hotels in the city.  There are lovely markets here, and we enjoy a festival with a lamb roast and live music.  We dance as if we know no one, and will never be here again.  It’s a liberating and joyful experience.

There is a beautiful beach around the corner from here, with gorgeous sparkling lapis coloured water that turns to an astounding teal colour in the shallows.  We bask under the shade of a pine tree, snorkel with the layers of suspended fish, like participants in a living mobile, and pick wild sage on the way back.

Our performance day (Sat. July 23) began with a lot of wind, and roused in us concern as to whether we would be able to run the show.  The scaffolding extends upwards about 15 feet above the deck, and there is an extensive aerial component to the show, not to mention and the scrim and backdrop which act like giant sails in the wind.  However, by the evening the winds have died down sufficiently for us to continue, and we present our third show to our first Croatian audience.

As with our former two shows, there are bunches of kids, attracted by the big puppet heads on the deck.  They arrive up to two hours early, and sit kicking and wriggling on the chairs, or talking in animated groups with they wait with the timeless and unpredictable patience of children.  In spite of a run through the day before, it is a new experience to shift into the content and specific demands of the show after the activities of sailing, setting up, and exploring a new location.  The show has a few glitches, but carries off well anyway.

The audience is very appreciative, clapping after each scene and staying engaged until the end.  Afterwards the performers carry hats through the audience to collect donations, and it is a unusual and pleasant experience to have contact with them directly after they have received the experience of the show and to feel their energy, even if words cannot be exchanged.

I find it an interesting approach to collect the money afterwards, once they have had a chance to see the show and feel its value to them, and for them to assess this value themselves reflected in their contribution.  This is different from paying an imposed value ahead of time that stands whether the show was enjoyed or not.  As usual, I see benefit in both versions.  We make about $150.00 Euro, comparable to what we made in Tivat.  Although this is not quite enough to cover expenses, I am optimistic that this will improve.

This afternoon we leave this sweet little town for our next location of Vis, the outermost island in a chain about a 15-17 hour slow motor north of here.  We will present our fourth performance there on Weds., July 27th.  I will try to update from there, pending internet connection.

All my best and fond thoughts to those of you at home.  Keep in touch,

Alisoun

| 3 Comments

Opening Night!~ :0

Well, we’ve finally had our opening night and it was a wonderful feeling! After working for two months, long hours and everyone pulling as hard as they can from all different directions to bring it all together, the show is now up and running.

The last week happened so quickly; one day the entire production team moved their stuff out of the Shore Palace, the house where they had been living and working, and a mound of their belongings arrived on the pavement of the Port parking lot. In spite of this, production continued all day in the scorching heat.  Our scrim painter has blisters between her toes from working on the hot pavement.

The next morning the boat moved to its performance docking at the main dock downtown. Suddenly we are an art installation in full public view, an attraction and point of interest to all the cafes across the road, and receiving a new perspective on this little Balkan town.  This new location is less protected, and sideways to the oncoming waves. After two months of living on a boat, we are all finally having to find our sea legs.  The afternoon sunshine slants through the portholes from a different angle now, and light reflecting from the water dances on the ceiling of the communal salon.  We are here three days before our opening, and production continues.

Our dress rehearsal was a tense one.  The preparations were unfamiliar to everyone, as the salon got turned into our dressing room.  The show feels incredibly green.  Halfway through we got a real taste of the realities of performing on ship.  An incoming boat sets the ship rocking like mad, just before a big aerial section.  The Captain calls off the fly, and we begin to improvise.  As we adjust to this technical glitch, a whole section of the show gets inadvertently rewritten.  By later reports the rocking really leant itself to the content of the scene, but all kinds of little bits and pieces were thrown off kilter, the details of which we find out from each other later and laugh about.  Then the microphone of the lead female singers stops working!  It was a true trial by fire.  Everyone pulled through, but felt a little disappointed at our thwarted attempt to unveil the show for the first time.

The next day, a number of our bunch depart.  The reality of losing half of this spirited family in the next three days sets in, as the cast prepares to go on tour and the production crew’s work is done.   The day feels unsettled, in spite of being our first day off in a six day week of intensive work, as we try to capture the last bits of sweetness in the collective experience we have co-created.  Some more leave very early in the morning the next day, still more later that afternoon.  Each one an integral part of making this whole production happen, and to the group energy and experience that we have created.

Then came last night, our opening night.  I am glad that a handful of those still set to leave have decided to delay their departure in order to see this last show in Tivat.  Spreading the  leaving out has helped to cushion the blow somewhat, and allowed for personal connections with each person leaving.  Bitter sweet.

Then… finally… opening night is upon us!  The energy feels completely different this time, more settled.  The nerves of the dress rehearsal are gone, left behind in the dusts of “what if”.  The performance, though not seamless, feels extremely solid.  The host of kids who graced our chairs stayed engaged right until the very end and the public were very appreciative.  The composer, who wisely had not come to the dress, was overwhelmed with gratitude for the transformation the show leant his beautiful music, which made me very happy.  The ship stayed rock solid throughout the entire show, and we had no microphone malfunctions.  It was a total success!  And I was so glad that those who had stayed had been able to see the show in all its potential before they went along their way into the next chapter of their lives.  Yippee!

After the show, we began our teardown, in preparation for the sail to our new location tomorrow.  A huge job, but one that will likely get more and more efficient with practice.  We are all tired, but fully satisfied.  I am so happy to close this phase of creation with a positive and successful run of the show, and to leave Tivat with a gift after hosting us so graciously for so long.

| Leave a comment