“This was a stupid idea!” I grumble as I take another shot of brandy. I look outside the door of the smoky bar watching the fat raindrops splash into overweight puddles.
The bar is the size of a pool table, yet locals huddle around, warming themselves around cigarettes watching a Croatian football match on a flat screen screwed unevenly on the wall. I’ve run out of brandy, and the two broken umbrellas I’ve deposited in the bucket against the door are pretty much useless, not to mention there is not much left to do on Hvar island in the rain.
“Why you come to Hvar in bad weather?” the bar tender scolds me as I complain in a very British fashion, “The season starts next week!”
In the summer, tourists overrun the island, mostly Australian rich-kids on rented yachts, coming here in flocks to “the crown jewel of Croatia’s Adriatic”. Even in the rain, I already catch a glimpse of the isle’s lauded beauty on the bus from Stari Grad to Hvar town. Lavender bushes grow wild on the roadside, the flowers ready to fill the air with their perfume, just in time for the season to start a week later. The small coves tucked in rocky bays already yield a bright sapphire blue that’s almost transparent in its cleanliness.
Getting off the bus, crowds come out Hvar Cathedral, wielding umbrellas being batted about in the wind as the rain starts to pound heavily again. My own umbrella snaps in half, but the one I buy in the supermarket gets bent out of shape by the time I reached the harbour. In the rain, the town’s charms are still apparent. Granite houses climb up the side of the hill, punctuated by palms and Venetian turrets, leading up to old castle walls that culminate in the fortress above.
The harbour curves round, with boats bobbing about in the water that gets rougher, with a vista heading out to an archipelago of smaller islands. The waves crash against the palm-lined promenade and the choice is either abandoning the umbrella and submitting to the wind or giving up entirely. I try to brave the elements – I’m not sure when I’ll be in Hvar again and decide to keep calm and carry on, but as the rain tumbles harder and the stone streets flood from overloaded drains, there is only one thing to do and that’s to give in and hide in a bar.
The more I sip on the brandy, the less I care about the weather. I had already broke down in tears when I found out the boat I wanted to catch was cancelled, and still had four hours to kill before I could go back to Split. The woman behind the desk at Jadrolinija Ferries had little sympathy for me, I guess it was my fault for coming out here at the wrong time of year.
The brandy hit the spot, and perhaps it was the alcohol talking, but the weather looked marginally better. I walk out into the stone-slabbed streets, buy yet another umbrella – third time lucky – and decide to walk up to the fortress.
As the pathway curved in a zig-zag on the side of the hill, the view over the Croatian town, with terracotta topped roofs and the chain making up the Pakleni Islands in the bay makes the trip worth it. There are strong gusts from the top of the fortress, but the rain has stopped.
Looking out over the bay, the city and the island’s appeal become as clear as the water around Hvar’s hidden bays. While there is not much to do on the island out of season, I imagine its streets crowded with tourists and the harbour packed with boats. I’m told Hvar is unbearable in the summer from the quantity of people who go there.
I feel grateful. I might be cold and reliant on brandy and a broken umbrella to keep me warm and dry, but for that small moment, I feel like this experience on the island is mine and mine alone.