My mother-in-law never really thought much of us getting a house on an island. Far too inconvenient for her liking. Ferries are such an unreliable form of transport, not to mention dangerous. And of course she was proved absolutely right within a very few months of us getting our house when the pride of Jadrolinija’s fleet, Marko Polo, ran aground one night on the tiny island of Sit (pop. 1). Oh dear!
However, most of the ferries have turned out to be extremely reliable – except for the catamaran service, which tends to remain in port whenever there is a bura. Apparently, it’s not because they can’t operate in choppy seas, just that they prefer not to toss their passengers around and have to clean up afterwards!
Back in 2006, the Croatian government passed the Islands Act, with the intent of promoting sustainable businesses on the islands, and developing traffic between the islands and the mainland. In reality, of course, there’s no money in the kitty for such excellent plans as every island having an airport, and travel costing the same as a similar distance on the mainland. That’s clearly not going to happen any more for the Adriatic islands than it does for the Hebrides in Scotland! Island life is always going to be separate and different, and somewhat challenging. And that’s part of what attracts us, frankly.
When I’m on the island, I love waking up at the first gleam of dawn – when the sun is about to rise, so do I. It’s a beautiful time of day to take my camera for a walk, so still and quiet and the reflections are amazing. Of course, I’m not the only one up and about at sunrise, the bakeries are open and other local folks also up and about. Now, I’ve never got up early and set out for an early walk in any of the other places we’ve lived. And that includes a pretty little village in rural England where sadly, there were no bakeries and in fact no shops of any type. Two pubs, mind you!
Island life is on a more compact scale than in a large metropolitan area. Things are more local, distances are shorter. In Vrboska, for instance, a settlement of 400 souls, we have two supermarkets, four bakeries, several cafes and something like six restaurants, though not all are open throughout the year. But it’s all very handy and within walking distance. Indeed, it’s possible to walk or cycle from one village or town to the next as they’re mostly fairly close. We have to get in the car to go to the big town of Hvar – oh, a full 20 minutes drive to get there! And it feels very much the big city with all those bustling cafes and offices and shops and so many people!
We’re back to walking to the shops again, just like when I was growing up, and you carry your shopping home. No car is involved, although a wheeled market trolley is helpful. It’s all very healthy and we feel distinctly fitter for it. Although, to be honest, we do tend to load up on heavy/bulky items at the bigger supermarkets which we do drive to!
And it’s not just the incoming shopping that needs carried up the street to the house. I’m realizing just how much unnecessary packaging there is on just about everything we buy – and all that has to be carried back down the street to the communal bin. Recycling becomes “what can I reuse that for?” as opposed to simply tossing it into a different coloured bin.
Purchase choices on an island are more limited, it’s true. But do we really need the extensive selections we’re used to finding in the shops? For food, local and seasonal is actually tastier and more healthy. For outfitting a house, as we’ve been doing, we’ve had to spread our searches to the warehouse stores around Split, but only if nothing can be found locally. And of course, there’s always the internet.
Island life has its own rhythm, related to the departure and arrival of the ferries. In the summer it’s much less pronounced, but come October, and the pared-down winter schedule, it’s very much apparent. When we were renovating the house, any purchase that was ordered from the mainland would arrive on tomorrow’s 1 o’clock ferry. And if coming from further afield, it would arrive on the following day’s 1 o’clock ferry.
It’s amazing to me that we are happily able to read emails, browse the interweb, make calls etc from the ferry in the middle of the Adriatic. Internet and mobile phones work everywhere, and free wifi is pretty common in cafes and restaurants. As much as I love the away-from-it-all feeling of the island, the internet connection is part of what makes it possible to be here, for me at least!
Now I have to admit that we’re not currently full-time islanders, but we do intend to be one day. Perhaps at that time the novelty will wear off and I’ll start to hanker after the familiar conveniences of big city life. But it may take some time and will be fun to find out!