Croatia: Secret worlds not far from the beach

(Holiday in ) Yugoslavia was actually (Holiday in ) Croatia

Summertime is holiday time. When people abroad talk about holidays in Yugoslavia (today: in the former Yugoslavia), they usually think of Croatia.

The reasons for this are obvious: Croatia has the longest coastline of all the former Yugoslav republics and is from a lot of European states easy to reach, even if you don’t want to get on a plane.

Therefore most foreigners who claim, that they have „already been to Yugoslavia“ have probably seen no more of this country than Croatia and – in transit – a little of Slovenia.

Croatia the „Bavaria of Yugoslavia“

That’s probably why Croatia could be called „The Bavaria of Yugoslavia“. Similar to many foreigners who say they have been to Germany but have actually only visited Bavaria, Croatia has shaped and continues to shape the image of Yugoslavia in many parts of the world.

Which is a pity, because the rest of the „former state“ has so much more to offer and – and is also very different from Croatia.

For reasons of simplification, we will only demonstrate this using the example of the big cities: Anyone who has seen Bavaria and thinks they know Germany has not seen Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg, among others. Those who have been to Croatia and think they know the former Yugoslavia have missed Belgrade, Sarajevo and Skopje, just to name some of the cities.

And most of those who have been to Croatia many times have not seen more of it than a strip of about 500 m along the coast.

A lot of them would even ask: Why do you need to see more? After all, in area you have the beach, accommodation and restaurants.

The early bird catches the worm

But if you want to see beyond this narrow strip of coastline, you don’t have to go far from the beach at all. However, in the summer you should get up early because of the heat. Which – if you don’t indulge too much in „après swim“ – shouldn’t be too hard, as it gets light very early at this time of the year.

Here now is an example of what you can see in one and a half to two hours if you are a reasonably experienced runner and leave your accommodation before 6:00 a.m. and are not too shy about altitude metres.

This run leads along the Adriatic Sea at the foot of the Biokovo Mountains. The starting and finishing point is a part of the municipality of Omiš. However, similar runs can be undertaken at many other holiday resorts along the Croatian Adriatic.

And the start is always very similar: first you usually have to run a certain distance along the coastal road. Already from there, the view is beautiful.


However, you should not enjoy it too much as long as you are still on the Magistrale, as your attention should mainly be on the road on this part of your run. Even at this time of day, there are already cars on the road. Especially dangerous are the cars that are still on the road on the journey to the holiday destination that started the evening before because their drivers are already very tired.

In Napoleon’s footsteps past empty wine glasses

At some point the road climbs up, depending on the place close to a church, a typical inconspicuous bus stop or in front of a small restaurant. Then the view gets even better.

The destination is the old coastal road, built in Napoleon’s time (at least that’s what our landlord says), at a time when there was no asphalt. High above its modern successor, it winds its way along the foothills of the Biokovo mountains towards Split.

On the way up, it passes guest quarters that offer a fantastic view but are far from the beach. Cars with German, Polish and Czech licence plates are parked in front of them. Far and wide you don’t see a single person. On the tables under the arbours there are often still wine glasses and empty bottles. It seems to have been late last night.

We also pass through abandoned villages, in some of which two or three houses are still inhabited. Old people still live in them. They are already awake at this time. When you met one of them you should have in mind, that people greet each other in a friendly but reserved manner here.

Shade: Not a rare commodity at this time of day

In one or two hours, the sun will have conquered this area as well. The only ones who then won’t stop their noisy activities will be the crickets. At the moment, however, runners can still make good progress here. The path is still in the shade and it is still pleasantly fresh on the skin.


At the cemetery: same name, different fates

At some point you pass the local cemetery. Most of those buried here have the same name which is also the name of the village down by the sea, which is actually just a tourism-related spin-off of an old, smaller village up here.

Despite the identical family name, one can still see in death that those buried here had different fates, and probably also different political attitudes and financial circumstances.

Classical Catholic gravestones can be found as well as the communist five-pointed star and the bust of a partisan. The gravesites also differ in their furnishings. They range from magnificent marble to simple wooden crosses.

You should take a break here. Anyone who sees running here as purely a workout is definitely doing something wrong!

After exploring the cemetery for about a quarter, or even better half of an hour, you can continue your run rested.

Has Neil Young parked some of his oldtimers here?

The next stop comes sooner than expected.

You rub your eyes in amazement and wonder whether the American rock musician Neil Young – who has a soft spot for old American road cruisers and is said to own dozens of them – might have strayed into this area a few years ago.

Unexpectedly, you find yourself standing in front of two vintage US cars that are gathering dust and slowly being taken over by the greenery around them.

Presumably it was not Neil Young, but a local who parked the road cruisers here. Possibly it was someone from here who now lives abroad and brought them in to have them restored cheaply and then ran out of steam?

Not an unusual pattern here. Normally, however, it is not aging luxury cars that rot away, but half-finished buildings. The reasons for such a standstill often remain in the dark: Sometimes one lacks the money, sometimes one loses interest even though he still has the money. Theoretically, it is also possible that in such cases the building authorities have stopped an overly ambitious but illegal project.

Speaking of authorities, from an environmental point of view, these vehicles would probably have no place in nature in this condition!

Back to the coastal road

Soon after this surprise find, the point of return of this route is reached. I enjoy the view from up here once more and envy the travellers on the yacht far below, which lonely leaves long white tracks on the mirror-smooth blue-green Adriatic.


To see more of the area, the way back is to take the coastal road, even though this requires increased concentration.

Therefore, we first descend the mountain. This is pleasant. However, one should be careful and slow down. After all, gravity accelerates not only when you run, but even more when you fall. And that could have nasty consequences here in this karstic terrain!

„St. Rock’n’Roll“: An old acquaintance with an unfamiliar name

The next sight, now back on asphalt, is only briefly noted.
It is the church of „Sveti Rok“.


„Sveti“ means „holy“. „Holy rock“, I think, and I wonder if there is also a „Holy Roll?“

Unpleasant foreboding: „7.7.2012 Why?“

Further down, I spot rather accidentally a graffiti: the portrait of a young man, two letters as an abbreviation for a first and last name and a date. The question: „Zašto?“ (Why?)

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An uneasy premonition sets in: The date could be the date of the young man’s death. I decide to get to the bottom of it when the opportunity arises and run on thoughtfully.

„Flowers“ that grow so incredible high

Down on the coastal road, you have to be careful. The space reserved for pedestrians is very narrow. But you are rewarded with fascinating things along the way, including an impressive example of the speed with which plants can shoot up in a season:

Truck accident at night
Shortly before reaching my accommodation, I am once again confronted with the harsh realities here.

Workers are unloading a lorry which lies about five metres below of the coast road. It must have broken through the crash barrier last night, presumably due to a driver’s error or fatigue, and crashed downwards. The whole thing is less than five hundred metres from our quarters. We still didn’t notice anything.


How might the driver have fared? You don’t have a good gut feeling. But you don’t want to ask either.

A short time later I am back at the accommodation. No one has missed me. The whole family is still asleep. And even after I had another hour of good sleep, everybody else is still in their dreams.

So it’s time for me to get to the bottom of things. That’s possible because our landlord installed Wi-Fi last year. At first, I didn’t like it at all, especially with our two children in mind. The WLAN-free zone in our year had thus been reduced to almost zero.

But now it came at just the right time: there was still nothing to be found of the lorry accident. It was different with H.T., who was 23 years old, studied in Zagreb and was found at home with his throat cut on 7 July 2012. Since there was nothing to indicate that the burglary had got out of hand, there must be other reasons for this crime. Only which ones? Zašto?

There is a more evident answer to the meaning of „Sv. Rok“: That is Saint Rochus, to whom a cemetery is dedicated also in Nuremberg, the city of my birth. My smart phone also reveals to me that although there is no „Holy Roll“, there is a religious group called the „Holy Rollers„. And I can also verify my memory of having heard this word in a Beatles song before the rest of my family even thinks to open their eyes. Which brings back the words of another Beatles-song: „Dear Prudence, open up your eyes. The sun is up, the sky is blue, it is beautiful and so are you.“

A little later on the beach: another world
Only a short time later, after breakfast, we are sitting on the beach, which is used exclusively by guests of the surrounding houses. A very international mixture of guests gathers on the beach – recognisable by the languages one hears, by the newspapers and books lying on the blankets and now and then, unfortunately, by the music blaring from some mobile players.


No one of them will ever hear of H.T. and some would consider the story of the road cruisers in the green to be well invented.

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