Croatia Day 11: Komiža (Vis)

Greetings from the island of Vis!

We’re presently sitting at a cafe. It’s 5:30 in the afternoon, and people are starting to make their way back to dry land after spending the day at the beach. Our cafe is protected from the late-day sun by a building, so it’s a popular one. The others along Komiža’s “downtown” waterfront (about 150 yards long) will get their turn later tonight.

Komiža, improbably, reminds me a bit of Paris. Although this town has only 700 residents during non-tourist season, right now it’s hard to tell who’s an islander and who’s a tourist. Everyone is at the cafés, at all times of the day. There is a feeling (reflected in the tourism literature but also directly reinforced by our host) that time here stands still, or at least moves more slowly. It’s the most relaxing place we’ve been.

Our very antique apartment (in the best sense) looks out over the Riva, which our host called “downtown.” There are maybe 12 cafés/restaurants along its edge. From our end to the other takes about three minutes to walk if we remind ourselves to slow down and move island-style. It’s so small that we recognize the waiters at each place. You can’t help but get the sense that if you stayed here for a week, you’d know everyone.

We certainly felt welcome immediately. Our host Zrinka met our bus (the ferry took us to a different town on the island) and actually HUGGED both of us in greeting. Coming from our less-than-ideal experience in Split, this alone won us over immediately. We loved her even more when she showed us our room, with its old furniture and windows that looked out onto the Riva (partially obscured by large palm trees), and when she then spent 20 minutes taking us through a detailed orientation to her town. She produced a map on which she’d marked her favorite beaches (accessible by kayak) and written over recommendations, like which restaurants served locally caught fish.

The best part of this orientation was the language lesson. She said to us: “there is just one word you need to know while you are here, and when you leave and go back to your lives, I want you to think of this word and the time oh spent here. That word is ‘pomalo.’ It means ‘slowly,’ and we even say it that way: pomaaaalo. On this island, we don’t rush. We relax.”

I immediately envisioned affixing a note with this word to my computer in my future London office…

Rachel and I spent a few minutes just gushing to each other about how lucky we were and how much we were going to love our time here. Eventually, we pulled on bathing suits and set off to follow Zrinka’s suggestion to rent a kayak. We were able to get one from a tourist agency; when I asked what time we had to bring it back, she just waved her hand and said “oh, just come back before it’s dark, otherwise I’ll worry about you.”

Paddles and waterproof barrel (to hold our stuff) in hand, we grabbed a quick lunch at one of the cafés, where our waiter became person number one of three that day to think I was actually Croatian. Apparently I’m just really good at pronouncing “dobar dan,” because this was not the first time that I’d said that only to have someone launch into rapid-fire Croatian. This waiter was very amused when I explained (in Croatian!) that I actually speak English, and he said “well because you fooled me, I’m going to keep talking to you in Croatian!” It occurred to me that this would be a great place to come and do some language immersion – there are a lot of people who speak some as English, but it would be really easy to meet people with whom to practice Croatian.

We picked up our kayak down on the beach and set off down the coast. Komiža is set into a really big bay – it’s essentially at the bottom of a wide U coming in from the sea, so it’s a little sheltered. The water was perfectly flat, so it was more like paddling on a lake than the ocean. All along our route there were small coves where people were swimming, though we had no idea how anyone had gotten to these places on foot as they all seemed to be at the bottom of cliffs and unconnected to any visible roads. We stopped a couple of times in smaller coves and eventually ended up pulling the kayak up onto the pebbles of a lovely cove that we had all to ourselves. It was such a tranquil and beautiful way to pass the afternoon.

We paddled back to town around 6 and then went to find the restaurant Zrinka had recommended. She’d told us to have the octopus peka – cooked in a huge, covered earthenware dish for two hours – and said that the best thing to do would be to go and make a reservation for the following night so that it would be ready when we arrived. We accomplished this and then showered before coming back down to the Riva for a simpler dinner at another place Zrinka had recommended. It was a popular choice, so we had to wait a bit, but this was fine because the best sunset yet was going on, so we wandered a little further down the harbor to take some pictures.

Our waiter for dinner was a guy in his 60’s who also found my limited knowledge of Croatian amusing and continued to speak to us in a mixture of both Croatian and English. I tried to throw our a different word or phrase each time he came by, and eventually he said “how you speak so much Croatian good?” 🙂 this made me very happy.

We wanted one more dose of internet (our apartment here, in keeping with the whole “pomaaaalo” lifestyle, doesn’t have wifi), so we went a couple doors down to a cafe/bar for a glass of wine. The cute waiter there also started speaking to us in Croatian and then, when telling us that the wifi password ended with 23, said to me “your age!” which of course was very flattering. (He refused to believe I was 29.)

So, our first day in Komiža was pretty fantastic. It felt great to be back on an island and to be in such a small town. We had a lot of fun in Hvar of course, but I think my favorite moments of this trip are from our experiences on the much smaller, more intimate and genuine Brač and Vis.

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