I’m in a hotel in Mali Ston, Croatia, but my bike is stranded on the side of the road with a broken clutch cable in Ston, Croatia, just a few kilometers away. I contact Dooby in Zagreb, who is about 700 kilometers away. Between us, we fail to find a replacement cable any closer.
Mr. Kralj and the receptionist at Ostrea Hotel tell me not to depend on the Croatian postal service after I suggest that Dooby could mail me a new cable from Zagreb. Instead, they recommend that Dooby put it on a local bus. I guess the bus service here is more reliable than the post office.
Watch this very short video for a quick update from Ston, Croatia.
Busses from Zagreb take some 12 hours to get to Ston, stopping along the way. We miss the day bus, so Dooby plans on giving the part to the driver of the evening bus. It will arrive in Ston at 4:00 AM. That’s too early, and with no Uber or taxi service in Mali Ston, I will have to get up around 3:00 AM and walk to the Ston to meet the driver. I must not be late as the driver will not wait and there is no formal “bus delivery service.” Dooby simply will ask the driver and I must “tip” the driver when he arrives.
“No don’t worry,” Mr. Kralj comforts me. “I will have the security guard meet the bus.” Relief and so much kindness. I feel better. The new part will be here Monday morning, and Mr. Kralj will meet me with a truck and a trailer, and we’ll take the bike to a garage where we can work on the bike and replace the cable. His hospitality and kindness are overwhelming. He’s busy. I see him running around all day. He runs this hotel, a restaurant, and he is building a new parking lot in Ston. But he goes out of the way to help me.
So with a plan in place, I hike the nearly three-mile (5.5km) length of walls that create the Ston Fortress. For the past several years the community has worked to restore the walls. I pay a few kunas and hike from Mali Ston, up steep inclines and slowly descend. I’m treated to great views of the Bay of Mali Ston, the town of Ston, salt flats, and to the winding roads that head north-west into the vineyards of the Peljesac peninsula.
The Walls of Ston once spanned seven kilometers, and long have enclosed and protected the tiny town of Ston. Built in the late 14th century, the fortress insulated the village from invaders after it received independence from the Venetians. This region of Dalmatia stretched from Dubrovnik in the South to Zadar in the north and encompassed some of the smaller islands off the coast. It was known as the Republic of Ragusa (in Italian, or the Republic of Dubrovnik in Croatian), like its famous port city to the South, Dubrovnik, was fortified with defensive walls to fend off the invading Ottomans.
There is no other fortress with walls as long as Ston in the entire European continent. Even more impressive are the forty towers the connect the walls and provide keen outposts for spotting potential intruders. In one tower I spot a group of young Frenchmen who are clearly here to gloat and celebrate their country’s win over Croatia in the World Cup just a few months ago.
It’s hot, and the sun is beaming down. I forgot sunscreen, but I am well covered with a hat and regrettably, long sleeves. Hiking the wall is a good workout, I cannot imagine what it took to build the fortress as it meanders up and down over these steep hills.
In the tiny hamlet of Ston, I check in on my bike to make sure it weathered the night. Then I wander the town and into the Wine Bar Ston where the owner, Dario gives me a quick overview of Croatian wines and especially those from here on the Pelijac peninsula.
Later, I hike along the road back to Mali Stone. That evening I take in some of Lidija’s excellent cooking at the Kapetanova Kuca restaurant here, and to taste what makes Mali Ston one of Croatia’s hottest culinary destinations—oysters. My hotel? Ostrea? Yes, that translates to oysters. They are harvesting them a few hundred meters from my room—and my table at the restaurant in the Bay of Mali Ston.
Every year in March, on St. Joseph’s day, the community holds an Oyster Festival. They celebrate by offering fresh oysters and a variety of cooked oyster dishes such as oyster soup and oyster fritters. They roast, fry, and bake oysters, but I prefer them fresh with a little lemon and a good glass of white wine. Today they serve me what’s known as European Flat Oysters, a specialty and so unique, fresh, and tasty—I’m tasting the Adriatic with each bite.
For my introduction to white wines, I try a crisp and minerally Posip, a white wine from grapes grown here on the Peljesac and on nearby islands such as Korcula. The crisp white pairs nice with the oysters after which I’m served a cheese and cured fish and meat platter of locally caught fish and game here on the peninsula. With some good food and wine in me, I finally relax. Soon I’m having my first Dingac, a deep and ripe red made from teh Plavac Mali grape and grown on the southwest region of the peninsula.
The young waiter is curious about me, a solo diner with an insatiable curiosity for history, wine, and culture. When I tell him I was in Mostar just yesterday, his brow furrows and his tone turns serious.
“There are too many Muslims in Mostar,” he confides. “They are not mellow nor kind either,” he explains. “Did you see all the rockets,” he asks, referring to the Minarets towering above mosques and dotting Mostar’s skyline. “They are fucking up our Mostar,” he appears defeated.
“There used to be more Croats in Mostar, not anymore,” he says.
I ask him who is worse, Muslims or Serbs? Without hesitation he says Muslims. “We now work together with the Serbs, Orthodox Christians,” he explains. “But you look at Mostar, and all you see are rockets.”
He tells me that even though the population of Croats has declined in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Croats living there own the best part of the country, and they refuse to sell property to Muslims. “The Muslines,” he says, “have all the money.”
“Don’t even get me started with Sarajevo,” he tenses up when he drops my bill at the table, and pours me another glass of wine. I forget to ask him why, but I assume he thinks that it’s an influx of Muslims. I wonder. The Ottomans were in this area for over 500 years.
When I ask him about Slovenia, he says, “we call them cowards.” Slovenia was the first of the former the republics that declared independence from Yugoslavia. Though when I press him about whether he would someday like to see Yugoslavia as one big country again.
“I don’t think it would work today,” he tells me, “though we were a big country, strong, just behind China back in the day.” I’ve struck a sour chord. “All of that is lost as all of us small countries vie for a piece of the pie.”
I ask him if he thinks there is more tension if the war that once divided them is over. “The war never stopped,” he feels, “it’s frozen.” He clarifies, “it’s TNT, waiting to explode.” Every 40 or 50 years we have a war here, now we are waiting.”
I’m waiting here in Mali Ston for my clutch cable. Tomorrow is a new day, and Doc will be mobile once again.