My Travel Journal through Italy and Yugoslavia in 1968
My journey from Paris towards the Ukraine in Russia continues … with entry into our first Communist country, Yugoslavia, and the drive along the spectacular coastline there. Once again we are delayed by car troubles, this time a forced stopover at Camp Borik, a beautiful lakeside camping ground near Zadar, where we meet up with young Italian men, who take us dancing and romancing. Pulling ourselves away, with regret, we continue ever onwards towards Dubrovnik, Titograd and Kaselin.
The 4th Day, July: The Adriatic Coastline in Italy
The romance of the Adriatic coastline! It had captivated us from Venice onwards. We’d made good headway and reached Trieste—beautiful Trieste—on the rocky Adriatic seashore at 8.30. The sun had gone down; the sky was pink. We passed along the cliff road leading around the city. The youth hostel was marvellous, like a palace set in trees at the foot of the hills, overlooking the sea. We were given the last beds. I took a cold shower and changed into my one sun dress. We rushed out with little over half-an-hour to eat and return to the hostel. Luckily, we found a tiny bar, where we were served pizza and gelato very quickly and sat there, marvelling at this beautiful Italian environment. We recognized other Australian voices as we went in to sleep at the hostel. Liz moved out on to the balcony. We slept well.
The 5th Day: Our First Communist country … a stopover in Rijeka
After having coffee and a roll, we went down the stairs to the sea area reserved for the hostel. I soon found myself immersed in the clean, green water of the Adriatic, swimming easily out. Heaven after living in Paris for so long without a beach. Then, lying in the sun, trying to read the Italian newspapers with the help of the pictures: Liz Taylor at an art auction in London. Finally, we tore ourselves away from the beach and headed for Yugoslavia. We had some trouble getting out of Trieste, but no difficulty passing through the border into our first communist country. Changing money and buying coupons for petrol was the order of the day. Soon we were passing along the very narrow and rough road that wound along the Adriatic coastline: spectacular views of high cliffs falling away into the blue, still water. The landscape was barren with grassy knolls and short, scattered trees, reminiscent of the vegetation along the Suez Canal on the way from Aden.
Driving was difficult and frightening at first, until I got used to it. We passed by peasant folk, an impression of heaviness, ancient looking farm labourers, toiling under the heat of the sun. Stopping at Rijeka, we ate greasy baby octopus and drank white wine, alongside of long-haired English beatniks. Then we swam in the oily port among many enormous, bulging men and women (the latter in two-piece costumes). Non-chic, we thought, snobbily, compared with French women at least. We set off again and drove on around the high, winding road overlooking the sea down below. The sun was still strong until 8 p.m. when we stopped at a small village and ate with several of the tourist groups outside a restaurant—veal, greasy potatoes, salad and beer; the service was bad. Poor peasant-type villagers were selling, talking and gathering wood and water. It was dark when we set off again to find a camp. At last we were directed to a small one by some English youths.
The grinning, friendly keeper invited us to have a drink in his house, set at the top of the camp area like the guardian angel with its quaint lamp outside. Sprightly music floated down from there. We sat down outside the house, facing an old, grinning, wrinkled woman, and young boys. The keeper kept plying us with a sweet, white wine as we talked and directed many questions to a Yugoslav student about his country and himself. He replied intelligently and simply. He said that Yugoslavia had a much freer system than the other Communist countries. The people liked to travel to Czechoslovakia but not to Russia. They disliked the Greek system. We learnt that the forty-year-old keeper, still beaming, was engaged to a twenty-year-old girl, and that the boy himself was not married but “unfortunately” had a two-year-old son. We staggered back to the tent and, laughing merrily despite the heat, we were soon asleep and remained so for most of the night, except when I was awakened by insects biting me and retreated into my sleeping bag.
The 6th Day: Romantic Camp Borik on the Adriatic Coast
I awoke early and went down for a swim with Liz, supplied with soap and a toothbrush at 7.30 a.m. It was already very hot and the water was delicious. Again the car wouldn’t start. We had to be cranked into life once more. Stopping for petrol, it happened once again. Several Yugoslavs and an Austrian with a 2 C.V. tried to start us, but finally we had to wait hours for help from a mechanic who cranked us up, so we could get to his garage. But then, we took a wrong turn and conked out again. Liz and I walked to a garage in Zadar, five kilometres, in the sun, and left Kay sitting for two hours in the car. A tow truck picked up the car and soon the trouble was diagnosed, but we waited for hours, just drinking at the outside tables, watching, discussing and making our usual generalisations about the likeable-looking Yugoslavs who passed by—until the tow truck could collect the car and Kay.
The three of us had to wait again until 6 o’clock when we drove the car, with a borrowed battery, to a big, waterside camp called Borik. We chose a spot in amongst others, as near to the seaside as possible. The outside restaurant was close to the water’s edge too. After putting up the tent and washing, we went to eat, and were directed by the waiter to a table with young French and Italian men. He’d thought I’d said we were “Italian”, not “Australiennes”. I learnt that the French were from Lille and very pleasant young men. They invited us for coffee and cognac afterwards. One of them was Italian/Canadian and funny, a bit of a comedian: “Are you kidding?” spoken in bad English with a Canadian accent. During a promenade, the Canadian became quite violently possessive, so I had to humour him. Fortunately, the tall French host protected me from his advances. It was poor Kay who was pestered in the end, until she ran off to the safety of the tent.
7th Day: An Italian Affair of Dancing and Romancing
We were awakened early by the scorching sun, had coffee and then to the beach. The French invited us for aperitifs before lunch. I saw that the tall blond one was actually red-haired. We ate lightly and went into the sea again. We talked all afternoon with the French on the jetty until late when the Italians arrived and suggested we go dancing after the restaurant. I changed into my sun frock and we had a veal dinner with the French. Then the Italians, who were watching us from the next table, came over and invited us to a dance at a hotel—Liz, Kay, Gino, Sergio, Alec and me. We left the Frenchmen, and went in the Italians’ smart car to the venue. I quickly paired up with Gino, olive-skinned and handsome. The others did a similar pairing. We drank wine, talked and danced until midnight. Gino was attentive and romantic, and seemed to really like me. Kay, spruiking her usual existential philosophy à la Sartre, made me wary, saying: “He’s probably got a girlfriend back in Rome.” I knew these words, similar to my mother’s warnings, would stay with me for a long time. Gino and I drove to the camp and sat on the jetty. It was cold but pleasant.
8th Day (Monday): Onwards to Split
I wanted to delay our departure, in order to see Gino before leaving, and suggested to Liz we leave after lunch. Liz was not happy about this. Regardless, I met Gino on the beach, and we swam all morning on a rubber float. Then we had lunch with the group—macaroni and veal and French salad. The boys took photos. Gino and I went for a drive, walked in the countryside and held hands. Nothing serious. On returning, we met the others for a drink. Trying not to look back at Gino, who appeared to be sulking, I put my foot down on the accelerator and sped off. I had a heavy feeling around the heart, too, but I knew we had to leave. He’d taken down my address in Paris to send photos to.
We headed for Split, arriving at 10.30. Some Austrians erected our tent for us in a fairy-like setting. We munched on bread and cheese.
9th Day: Beautiful Dubrovnik
We had coffee in a cool, open-air restaurant and then a swim. Kay was too burnt to go in the sun. We left at 11a.m. and passed by very beautiful scenery—still dry, rocky cliffs and a road winding around the coast-line, but the water a startling turquoise colour. Many clean beaches, quaint villages and pale churches. Liz drove and I stood up with my head and shoulders through the open roof and looked down at the shore below to the astonishment of other road-users. We stopped in a tiny port to eat and drink greasy pastry, cheese, yoghurt, stewed plums and mineral water. Arrived in Dubrovnik in daylight and pitched our tent in a tiny, rocky, but tree-shaded corner of the large camp, again packed with German, Dutch and other tourists.
Afterwards, we followed a path down to the sea and had a swim and a rest, before changing to go and eat. We drove to a hotel just outside the camp and ordered a good but expensive meal. A very young German youth came up after we’d finished eating, talking, paying and arguing over the bill, and asked me to dance. We did a modern dance, and I stayed on drinking beer while the others returned to the tent. We looked for another dance—the two German brothers, their friend and a Swedish girlfriend—but returned to the camp on finding everything closed. The young German boy was disappointed.
10th Day: Picnics, swimming and losing things…
I awoke early and was depressed and unsettled to find my clothes—a bikini and a skirt—stolen from the shower rooms, on top of my watch lost in Zadar. The receptionist was unsympathetic. I drove to the beach and had a swim before the others were up and dressed. Then we all packed up and went there after trying to clarify the bill for the preceding evening’s meal with the manager. All rather depressing. We drank and swam a bit, then we went into the gardens for a picnic lunch of bread, tomatoes and meat with wine. Siesta time came like a cleansing balm, and we awoke feeling much refreshed. We drove on, Liz and I taking turns. The friendly keeper of the next campsite park was interested in meeting the first Australians speaking a foreign language he had ever met; he directed us to a cramped corner of the very full camp. Other helpful people advised us and enabled us to install ourselves and we put up the tent quickly and had dinner at the camp restaurant: an excellent entrecote and tomato.
11th Day: Titograd to Kaselin … camping beside a stream
Next morning, we drove on to the charming centre of Budva, the most ancient city on the Adriatic coast. Here we walked through the narrow, picturesque streets and arches of a walled-in shopping centre: like an ancient fortress town with its stone walls and narrow passages. We took lots of photos here. Then we headed for the sea, where we swam in the delicious water under the scorching sun and later picnicked in the adjoining park. More wine, the habitual siesta. It was evening when we set off again and, after a stop at Titograd, an attempt to have the lights mended and a slight difficulty ejecting an unwanted passenger, we continued in the dark, Liz driving uphill, to Kaselin, a small town and sparsely-populated camping field beside a stream.
Before putting up the tent we drove back up the treacherous path to a hotel which drew us into a strange, magical atmosphere of warmth and fairy-like grandeur: smartly-dressed people, well-set tables in a fine, chalet-like building, almost ludicrous in the simple, homely village setting. Here we were cordially served an excellent entrecote and French fries alongside of placid, simple Yugoslavs. As we were leaving a smartly-dressed man followed us out and impeached us in fair English to return for drinks and a talk which, after much persuasion from him, we hesitatingly did. Only later did we realise our error, when he declared himself to be hopelessly in love with Liz—”my type of woman”—and very difficult to convince that he could not come and sleep with her. A much travelled Yugoslav but characteristically “rugged”, easily angered, obstinate, indiscreet, but very friendly, happy and carefree nevertheless…
At last we yanked Liz free and were off—only to see him approaching the tent on foot, obviously drunk, but finally he relented and left after making a date with Liz for the next morning–a lake trip. Little did we expect to see him turn up at the camping site the next morning, but there he was, promptly at 9 o’clock, this time more subdued and easily convinced that we were leaving.
This leg of the journey, along the Adriatic Coastline, and especially the forced stay at Camp Borik, was perhaps the highlight of the whole trip. Now I often return to Croatia with my husband, and we stay in Cavtat at the gorgeous Hotel Croatia, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. But I’ll never forget the freedom and romance of that first great adventure there.