Friday, 23 April 2010

An island of cheese...

written 22nd April

No really, it is!  Well it says it is anyway... Good enough for me :)

We did find somewhere to stop eventually on Tuesday night after driving much further than we anticipated.  We are not totally sure that small vans are welcome overnight outside of campsites so are very picky about where we stop.  In Slovenia there were at least some spots marked on the map and in other places we tucked ourselves away somewhere quiet and cooked in the dark.  here we tend to  cook in one place then park very very quietly somewhere else, trying to hide ourselves in residents parking and the like where there are plenty of other cars overnight.  Bit of a worry at times but have been ok so far - out of season probably helps, as does being in something small and car sized which isn't the traditional white motorhome shape.  The legal limit for alcohol and driving - which is zero! - is also leading to a change in lifestyle as, because we are not 100% sure we won't get moved on, we can't risk even small beer or glass of something in the evening - would be pretty terrible to get done for illegal camping and then DUI at the same time!  Yes I know we could stop in campsites but we're kinda out of the habit of that now - freeloaders that we are... ;) - and have better things to spend the budget on anyway, like beautiful lakes and the promise of icecream to come.  

Anyhoo, we eventually found a lovely deserted harbour for the night

and awoke bright and early in glorious sunshine and set off to Pag.

Pag is unexpected and gorgeous, in a way which is totally impossible to capture without being a better photographer than I and having a fancy panoramic lens.  

 Baking under a scorching sun, the arid, sepia-toned hills rise out of the cerulean sea.  It is too barren to be pretty, too stony to be paradise but it is wild and rugged enough to beautiful.  And I loved it.

It is connected to a peninsula of mainland by a bridge and the difference is marked as soon as you cross over.  There are bushes and grass on the mainland but nothing but cream rocks as far as the eye can see on the other.  Pag consists of four long, thin, stretched out islands which are loosely connected together round elongated bays, the whole ensemble  extending finger-like into the Adriatic, with .  The main town, also called Pag, is about halfway up, spanning an long inlet, and it was there we headed first.

There are two famous things about Pag, we discovered from the tourist office; lace and cheese.

The lace is made by hand by wizened old ladies, sitting picturesquely in the sun on their doorsteps - but only in tourist season ;) - and apparently it would be a sin, according to the tourist office lady, to leave Pag without seeing (and presumably buying) some.  But the sin was theirs, she said, as the museum was closed but she could tell us where to see some in private windows, just knock if we want to buy some!

So we duly went to looksee and it was amazingly intricate.  Star shaped patterns like gossamer spiders webs, beautiful to look at.  I don't really know who lace is made, I presume it is some sort of pins and knots effort, but some of them were so fine they looked like they would barely hold together - far to delicate for the rough and tumble van dwelling life.

Pag cheese is also pretty special.  It is sheeps cheese, from the sheep which graze free range on what flora the landscape does sustain and the tang of the salt which permeates the ground and the plants is transmitted to the milk they produce.  The cheese is apparently only made from milk collected in May, when the flavour is deemed to be at its peak, and it is left unpasteurised to allow the flavour to develop further during fermentation.  Once it is made, it is rubbed with sea salt and olive oil and left to age for 6-12 months in stone.  And it is yummy.

I was very nearly not allowed to buy any!  Evil husband who spoils all my fun, said I still had montepulciano cheese left, not to mention gran padana so didn't need any more cheese!  Since the horrible spanish cheese incident, I have a new policy on cheese, whereby I will spend more money per kilogram on small amounts of nice or special cheese and make it last, rather than the same amount of money on larger quantities of cheap (but at least of the right country)supermarket cheese which I may not like.  As a plan it is working (and it is definitely better for the quest for fitness) and as I say, I surprisingly still have some yummy montepulciano cheese to nibble on, but still, this is not a valid reason to be denied new special cheese, particularly as I missed out on Slovenian cheese from Bohinj (evil husband wouldn't take me to the alpine dairy museum and cheese shop in the village round the lake) and as I keep telling him, the gran padana/parmesan is an ingredient of dinner, not cheese for pleasure!

Fortunately he is not actually evil and he does pander to my every whim (and fix my van) even after 10yrs together, three years of marriage and six months living in a small campervan - lovely husband - so I did get my delicious cheese, albeit by advice from the tourist office, from a supermarket where you can buy smaller quantities, rather than my romantic notion of haggling on a farm doorstep.  Ho hum, can't have everything. 

Pag town is lovely.  The old town area is a grid pattern  - no twisty typical streets here - with pale marble streets lined with pale stone houses opening out on to a blindingly bright square.  

We wandered around a bit then decided to set off on our bikes for a change to explore some of the 115kms of cycle tracks the islanders have created.


Most of the tracks listed in the leaflet, seemed to start from somewhere random and end somewhere random, were not circular routes as you might expect and did not connect with each other - odd - but we picked a short, 7kms one starting from Pag, over to the small village of Kosljun, along what sounded like a dirt track.

The path profile shown looked a bit alarming at first - very steep - but it soon became apparent that that was the xy scales used - x axis: 1cm = 1km, y axis: 1cm = 10m - which made it steep, not the physical landscape :)  it was actually rather pleasant, if quite stony and jarred my arms a lot going over rocks or into ruts - despite what my bike may proclaim, I am distinctly not serious about mountains, or even slightly bumpy tracks, give me nice smooth tarmac any day!

We cycled along past the salt pans - the main economic activity of the island, sadly, again, museum closed as out of season.  One day we will find an open salt pans museum, it is becoming a quest! - up over the ridge,

past the sheep grazing amongst the agapanthus,

and down to the bay, looking out towards the small islands in the Virsko sea.

And it was all rather pleasant.  Bit of a sit, an orange and a biscuit or too, a paddle

and some lying in the sun later, we decided that it hadn't been as arduous a trip as we had anticipated under the blazing sky,

so we headed back the way we came and then the other way out of Pag, northwards along the inside beach.

This track was tougher, and steeper, and I have to confess to walking some of it, but the view was stunning - deep blues and pale creams and the hazy mountains of the mainland rising up behind, just too beautiful -

and the sweeping downhills made the uphill struggles all worthwhile with my new freewheeling ability - wheeeeeeeeee! -  and we made the 12kms to Sveti Duh beach in good time.

With the roads ahead and inland looking steep in both directions, and the sun beating down still, we stopped at the beach and went in the sea to cool off.

To cold to swim, but we sat in the shallows of the sparkling turquoise waters,

watching the little fishies and shrimps investigating our toes, then stretched out for a bask in the sun.

FKK but deserted and anyway, why not???

try anything once (well twice but that is another story...)

Eventually though, had to force my aching arms and legs back on the bike and head back.  We considered coming back in the van for the night, and stopping undisturbed in the middle of nowhere but then found the municipal wifi - free and fast, perfect! - so stayed put in Pag town, tucked in a discrete corner.  

Today has been usefully spent in a bit of fettling on Will's part and some photo sorting and uploading on mine - flickr is now up to date as far as february and gun emplacements... I have a long way to go... The camera - which is excellent, thanks to Austin for his expert recommendation! - which was bought specially for ths trip as a leaving present from work as the old one stopped focusing with 2 weeks to go... - thanks so much to everyone! - has just clicked round to into the 6,000th picture taken. I am a bit behind...

Having happily passed most of a sunny day thus employed - Will would like to point out at this juncture that this is not a jolly holiday, it is a tale of hard work and facing adversity, he worked through lunch today and yesterday we couldn't get coffee in the morning as the whole town was without power for planned works, it is very hard being us... ;) - we are now heading on out, off the island to Zadar to see what we can find.


  1. No coffee!!! that sounds awful, worse than being stuck at ARM in front of a keyboard all day. At least we have coffee.

  2. Hi there from a member of a local VW van driver community "VW Kombi Forum", , which is in fact an unformal group of enthusiasts for classic VW Transporter vans and campers, from several ex-YU countries (HR, SLO, BiH, SRB).

    One of our members has spotted your van in Zadar, and since then some of us have started reading your travelling blog, which we find amazing. We encourage you to continue writing and posting pictures, since it is always interesting for us to learn how the visitors from abroad see and experiance our region.

    In case you have any problems with your T2 while travelling our countries, or you need any other help or local information, feel free to ask us at our forum (in english of course), we'll be glad and do our best to help you.

    Have a nice trip through our region, keep up the good work - continue writing, and one big "hang loose" from all of us!