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Share your summer memories: Summer in Croatia

PATRICIA REESBY
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2012
Summer in Croatia
Patricia Reesby

It was warm enough to swim at sunset in Split in July.

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The temperature gauge was now above 40degC and I was suffering. It was July this year and I was in Croatia.

My sunhat shaded my head but made it hotter, so each time I reached some shade I'd take it off again … only to jam it back on when I had to walk in the sun. On again, off again, on again …

I'd stay in the blessedly air-conditioned apartment most of the afternoon and then walk down to the waterfront, trying not to break out into a sweat. I'd come to realise that constant sweating causes dehydration, and if the pharmacy assistant has no knowledge of English, electrolyte sachets are hard to mime.

Chicken salad, with a cold beer or iced tea, at Bistro San. And then a swim in the soothing waters of the Adriatic.

I'd been on an Intrepid trip, and a friend and I had rented an apartment for a few days afterwards. It was well away from the historic 'old town' and that suited me fine. I hadn't been prepared for the heat or the crowds – whole cruise ships of tourists. I'd never even heard of Split before this trip but obviously many others had. Diocletian's Palace was jam packed with sightseers and shops selling everything from postcards to filigree silver, fashion clothing and designer sunglasses.

In contrast, we were now among local people, their apartment blocks, bistros and cafe bars. These people who looked so much like us, until we heard them talking or tried to make ourselves understood.

Lively voices in the early evening. The men emerge from the seaside restaurants and cafe bars, play cards on the warm flat rocks, laugh and call out to each other, jump in the sea, throw balls to their friends in the water. Bare-chested Croatian men, all shapes and sizes, so often reminding me of my old friend Vladimir, the only person I'd known whose family came from this part of the world. But Vladimir was a Kiwi, he spoke English. I have no idea what these men are talking about.

My favourite place for swimming is the closest to the apartment and Bistro San – why walk further when the cooling water is right there and you just go down a ladder from the rocks to the sea? But one evening, just on sunset, we walk a bit further around the coast to a pebbly beach. Here, as everywhere, men are talking and laughing – a tableau against the blue water.

I try to imagine what they're saying. Are they discussing football, cars, politics, business, their wives, the philosophy of Plato? I have no idea. I can't even understand what the small children are saying - these clever children chattering so fluently in a language foreign to me. All I can manage is a feeble 'Hvala' when it seems thanks is required. Anything more and I'm lost.

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Dogs stroll by, happily purposeful though seemingly belonging to no one. A cat lurks in the shadows of the sultry evening. Young mothers, toddlers in pushchairs, cats, dogs and everywhere these laughing Dalmatian men. Some youthfully trim, others pot bellied, all relaxed and jovial, finding life fun.

Sated with swimming, floating on my back and gazing short-sightedly up at the sky, I finally climb the ladder to the rocks again, get dressed and wander back up the hill to the apartment.

And on my final evening in Split, I walk extra slowly down the busy road towards the evening meal and the swim, for I've finally learned how best to cope with the climate. I rest for a while whenever I come to a patch of shade.

Helen handles the heat better than I do and has already been out walking most of the afternoon. We meet at Bistro San and I'm just finishing my chicken salad and contemplating my iced tea when I look down at my paper napkin and realise something truly remarkable. For the first time in weeks, the tissue is not a screwed up ball sodden with perspiration.

And I haven't had to stop myself from drinking the iced tea or a long cold beer in one big gulp. The heat and humidity have dropped slightly, or maybe I'm acclimatising.

I know that when I swim this evening it will be for the sake of swimming, not a desperate attempt to cool down and stop sweating.

After my swim, I have another surprising sensation - I'm slightly chilly. I'd almost forgotten what this is like. It's amazing. For once I forgo the open air shower. As I walk up the hill again and the local guys roar past on their motorbikes, I keep a memory of the Adriatic in the saltiness still on my skin. For tomorrow I'll be catching planes.

I'm on the other side of the world, on the Dalmatian coast where summers are hot and dry. All too soon I'll be back in wintry Wellington where my swimming togs will stay in the drawer and I'm unlikely to need rehydration sachets. I'll also know what people are saying … but I'll miss the Adriatic coast and these incomprehensible people who are otherwise so like us.

I have no idea what they're talking about but I love being around them.


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