Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trogir, Čiovo and Split – The Bridge Is Finally Open!

Čiovo Bridge © Jane Cody & Croatia Online

The next few postings were supposed to be about my exploits in Lošinj, under the gentle guidance of  The Croatian Language School , and they will be. However this is an extremely auspicious day for the inhabitants of Croatia’s island of Čiovo so I couldn’t let it go unmarked.

I used to be one myself (an inhabitant of Čiovo that is) and, for one main reason, we used to dread the tourist invasion in the summer. We could walk over the two bridges to the part of Trogir that is on the mainland, in about ten minutes but, in the summer, if you timed it wrong and people were heading to, or back, from Čiovo’s beaches, the trip by car could take a couple of hours. Even outside the summer, if your car trip coincided with workers going in and out of Trogir’s shipyard, with its entrance on Čiovo island, it could still take a while.

Back in the early noughties, there was just one narrow, paved, single lane carriageway over the bridge from Čiovo island onto Trogir island and then another one onto the mainland. It was a pretty hazardous trip for pedestrians and drivers alike, with confusing priorities, which didn’t help the traffic flow, and very narrow pavements which didn’t help the people flow. In fact it was finally a nasty accident that, I think, encouraged the speedy construction of a pedestrian only bridge by the market.

We used to laugh in those very early days (around 2005 I think) when a visionary called Blagaić put an article in Slobodna Dalmacija suggesting that a new bridge from Čiovo to Split could help transform Slatine (at the Split end of Čiovo island) into a Croatian Manhattan Island. Well he might just be proved right now.

Certainly the new bridge should help a lot to take the pressure off the traffic through Trogir and what a bonus for those who can see Split just across the water but used to have to go north west all the way to Trogir to get to the mainland, only to double back on themselves and head south east to Split.

The photo above was taken a couple of years ago when I was visiting friends in Slatine. They certainly deserve a bit of a bonus after all the building works – not only has the bridge building been going on for a while but there’s been another long construction project, to link most of the houses on Čiovo to a mains sewage system, which has involved substantial road diversions around the back and up the narrow spine of the island. What with stops and starts, for various reasons, and the fact that not much construction happens in the tourist season, both projects have taken  a few years and I must say I rather doubted the bridge project would start, let alone finish, challenging as the tendering and construction problems have been. I understand, though, that the EU has helped keep things going, threatening to stop funding unless the various deadlines were met, and the work shifts were increased so that work was going on 24 hours a day.

Whatever the challenges, it’s a great accomplishment and I suppose it will be the massive Pelješac bridge next!

Croatia Online - Trogir Bridge Sign © Jane Cody & Croatia Online

The image above details EU funding for the bridge, or at least two of the phases – I saw a lot of these signs on my travels round Croatia in 2016 but not many for amounts as big as this. I’m sure the project over ran its budget considerably, what with all the delays, etc, but, according to the sign, the total project cost was 207 milllion kunas, of which 85 % was funded by the EU.

Lošinj Island - First Impressions: Immortelle!

Immortelle, Lošinj, Croatia © Jane Cody

Regular readers will be well aware that, in June, I spent a week in Ćunski, near Mali Lošinj, on the island of Lošinj.

The main purpose of the trip was to better my language skills with an immersion course with the Croatian Language School, but of course there’s no point trying to ”immerse” yourself in all things Croatian without getting out and about a little!

I've explained, in detail, how to get to Lošinj in earlier postings - Rijeka airport is probably the best airport to fly to and then it's over the road bridge onto Krk island, followed by a short ferry hop to Cres island and then a further drive south, over another road bridge, onto Lošinj island - the next few postings are all about the delights you can find on the island….

The first thing that strikes you, the moment you arrive on Lošinj, is a strong, unusual but pleasant smell that's hard to identify. Some suggest it's a curry smell but I think of it as a mixture of carob, pine, rosemary, sage, lavender and aniseed although that might just be because they are all smells that I associate with Croatia. In fact I’ve just had another smell (you CAN bottle it!) and now it’s reminding me of Orohovac – a walnut brandy. Whatever its scent is like, it’s with you all the time you are on the island, as is the sound of crickets and the iridescent blue of the sea and sky.

The olfactory part of the sensory overload is down to a plant called Helichrysum italicum, more commonly known as the curry plant or immortelle. In Croatian it’s called Smilje. Clearly it takes the first nickname because of how some people perceive its smell; the second common name derives from the fact that the flowers seem to last for ever, whether still attached to the plant, or dried, or on their way to making a health giving elixir.

Lošinj has long been known for its health giving attributes, no doubt partly because, although sheltered by Kvarner bay, it lies a long way out to sea. It may also be because of this native plant which is attributed with immense health giving powers. In fact, if you google it, you’ll find that, in the form of an essential oil, it’s pretty well all you need in your medicine cabinet! It’s supposed to be particularly good for skin rejuvenation, allergies, liver function, muscle spasms, gallstones, detoxification and as an anti inflammatory. It’s used widely in aroma therapy and, whether its Smilje or something else, I have to say that, whilst I was on Lošinj, I barely touched my considerable stock of tissues when, normally, there’s always something around to give me the sniffles.

Todays photo is of a clump of Smilje at the back of the Croatian Language School premises. Linda Rabuzin, my teacher, tipped me off about a tour of Mali Lošinj, including a visit to an organic small holding, where I was able to bring back my own small bottle of the elixir of youth and immortality – more on that particular trip soon.

 Be right back

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Learning The Croatian Language – Why?!

Learning Croatian © Jane Cody

Many friends have asked me why I decided to go the island of Lošinj (pronounced Losheen) for an immersion course in Croatian with The Croatian Language School  [CLS]. Not only is it a significant investment in money, but also in time and courage. And the time does not just start and end with the week itself – you could go as a complete beginner, and still benefit hugely, but, like everything else, the more groundwork you put in beforehand, the more it helps, and the more you continue afterwards, the less likely you are to lose the considerable benefits of an immersion week such as this. Already, just two weeks later, with a few other things to distract me, I can feel words slipping away, so I am determined to get back into language learning as soon as I can.

Visiting Croatia, in itself, is obviously a great selling point, but, on the other hand, you won’t have too much time to spare if you take the language learning seriously. To get the most from your studies you need some time to do your homework and prepare for the next lessons, on top of the nearly four hours a day you are cranking up the gears in the rusty foreign language part of your brain, as you sit in front of your teacher, trying not to make the same mistake again (and again!).

Everyone is different but for me, originally, it was a bit of an impulse decision – one of those opportunities not to be missed. Croatia has been an important part of my life for nearly two decades  and it seemed ridiculous to have to continue to struggle to put a few sentences together correctly. Yes, I know quite a few words, and yes, I sound pretty good ordering food and wine in restaurants and asking for things in shops, but I was not confident and missed out on any real connection with the locals. Now I believe I have a solid basis from which to move on.

The naysayers will tell you there’s no point in learning the language…….

* Croatians all speak very good English

* It’s not a “useful” language as it’s not widely used

* It’s too difficult

* It’s ok to just come out with a few words and phrases that are roughly ok


I say, along with several other devoted CLS pupils …

* You’ll get much more out of the country and culture if you make an effort to speak the language correctly

* It’s as useful as you let it be – I couldn’t believe the difference in the way the locals engaged with me when I managed to get my sentences out correctly, albeit slowly, rather than trotting out a few haphazard and scrappy phrases

* It is difficult to start with but it’s a fascinating language and once you master the basics you’ll improve in leaps and bounds

* It’s not ok to make a pig’s ear of someone else’s language – think how we Brits feel about the way Americans have “adapted” Queen’s English

More than all that  I could almost hear my brain working as it grappled with so many new things in rapid succession – it felt good and, eventually, I did start remembering things and making good progress. As the week went on, I gained in confidence and, by the end of it, I just wanted more.

I wouldn’t advise that anyone embarks on something like this lightly – if you get the wrong teacher you’ll probably never want to try and learn any other language again, let alone Croatian. Linda Rabuzin, the founding Director of CLS, however, has the patience of a saint and a real knack of knowing when to push you and when to cut you a bit of slack. Much to my surprise, especially for someone who has not been in a formal learning environment for nearly twenty years, the almost two hour, one on one, sessions all flew by – a bit of conversation (don’t worry…you’ll start with a bit of the Croatian equivalent of franglais – hrvengleski?!), some grammar, a few exercises from a really good set of books, some reading to get the pronunciation right (and this is one of the facets of Croatian that is relatively consistent compared to other languages) a little verb conjugation……and then the killer question.

“Why are you here?”

We spent a little time each day until I had a brilliant answer, almost a speech, to this question – not just perfecting the Croatian but getting the right rationale too – I forget to tell you that Linda has pretty good personal development skills too!

All in all the week surpassed my already high expectations considerably; not only did I achieve more progress in Croatian, in a week, than I would ever have imagined, but it has enriched my understanding of Croatians and Croatia no end. More than that it has turned on switches in my brain that I thought were permanently off, and also re-connected me with a lovely bunch of people and all that is good about Croatians and Croatia.

There’s plenty more to tell about the lessons themselves, the surroundings and the events of the week, but I hope today’s posting has given you a bit of a flavour of it all.

Today’s picture is of me and teacher Linda, on the last day, in the very comfortable and functional classroom. This forms part of an apartment in which equally comfortable accommodation is also available.

For more information on the immersion courses and many other ways of learning Croatian visit CLS’s website http://easycroatian.com/  To find out more about the highlights of my week, look out for the next few postings.