Empty Caffe Bars, Cats and Rain
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
“You’re late you’ve missed the party.”
“But it’s so cold, it will snow soon.”
These sentiment followed through Istra down the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Most tourists come for the hot weather, beaches and parties that define the Adriatic from June to September. Cycling in November meant a bit more rain and overcast days but it meant reasonable temperatures in the 50s and 60s F (10-15º C) which we gladly took over the 80sº F (28º C) common in the summer months.
It’s low season and many of the bars and restaurants are closed but we found a cute place for a drink just in time to be shielded from a downpour. Kings Caffe Bar was on the south side of Marina Malinska. Caffe Bars are a staple of Croatian social life. In the morning men gather to chain smoke cigarets over tiny coffees and newspapers with the news on in the background. By night they serve beer and the myriad locally liquors in flavors ranging form plum to pear to a hazelnut.
We took a table outside and ordered beers. Craig had a pale ale and I chose the red ale. We were pleased to have found a bit of civilization and clean water after roaming around the abandoned acres of Hotel Haludovo. A date was going on behind us under the large umbrellas that covered the patio. All of a sudden we heard a huge THUMP. Something had fallen onto the umbrella. The waitress came out to investigate. A stray cat had leapt from the roof onto the umbrella, crawled to the edge then jumped to the ground. Stray cats are everywhere in Croatia and groups of people fund raise to feed them in parks and alleys. We had a good laugh about it and went back to our drink.
I had elected not to wear my raincoat so of course the skies opened. We moved to a table closer to the building to avoid the sprinkles but then the wind picked up blowing the drops sideways so we moved inside. It was not a good night to cook outdoors, we would have to eat out. As the storm picked up we settled in.
Above the bar, a board displayed money from around the world. Craig added small bills from southeast Asia: Vietnamese Dong, Cambodian Riel and Lao Kip. Our waitress handed us a roll of tape and encouraged us to sign the bills before hanging them up next to the Euros, USD, Yuan and Aussie dollars. We wrote love letters to each other on the money. Southeast Asia is where we met and as we had yet to have a date in either of our respective home countries of England and America, it seemed suiting.
The sunsets early in Croatia in the Autumn. By 5 the sky is turning pink and by 6 it’s pretty much pitch black so It always feels later than it is. We started wandering back to our campsite stopping for a greasy meat-filled burek on the way. The music from Caffe Bar Jaz lured us up the stairs into a dark, smoky bar overlooking the marina. A man sat solo nursing a beer in the front and Marco from Serbia was looking bored behind the bar.
Marco had lived in Croatia for the better part of a decade and was very excited to practice his English with native speakers. He told us about the football match he was watching and how he makes more money in Croatia than he did in Serbia, but not now. Now it was quite. The tourists had gone home. We were tourists. What the hell were we doing here anyway?
We told him how we had ridden out bicycles from Milan and now we were on Krk island heading south to Split. He told us it was a good time to come and we agreed. We had intended to stay for one night cap but Marco’s thorough rundown of the beers he had on offer including where they were brewed and what they tasted like enticed us to stay for another.
We put out kuna in the pool table and played a game of 8 ball. I held my own but won on a technicality. Craig scratched on the 8 despite being a far superior billiards player than me. We bid Marco farewell and he asked us to come back the following day. He’d be opening at noon. We told him we would be long gone by then. How about 10? We told him no, still too late but thank you. We took our Burek down the stairs along the dark path that lead back to our campsite at the abandoned hotel and feasted on savory pastry before drawing into our sleeping bags thankful that the rain had stoped and that we had a dry place to sleep.