As I grew up in the continental part of Croatia, in Varaždin, from the time I was a child I yearned for the sea. I was especially sad during the summer when some of my neighbourhood friends packed and headed off to visit their grandparents, their aunts, their first, third or fifth cousins or whoever. The only important thing was to head to the sea. I always stayed and spent my summers at a ‘pleasant’ 36˚+, mostly in the company of my dog and another ‘loser’ who didn’t have relatives at the seaside or, like my family, was not particularly materially well-grounded so as to afford summer holidays each year. Naturally, when I was 25 years old, when I graduated and found a job, I travelled wherever I wanted, when I could even twice in a year. I flew all over the world and over ten years I gathered as many kilometres as I could no longer count by myself. I have been to Barcelona, Madrid, Paris, London, Stockholm and Berlin. I travelled to Indonesia, Vietnam, Hong-Kong.
I have visited Croatia lengthwise and crosswise, I have spent summer holidays at the seaside almost every summer, but at some point or other, I always bypassed Šibenik. I am not sure why. It must be the karma. Last year I finally ran out of new destinations where I could go on my summer holiday, at least couldn’t remember any, so I asked a friend where he was going. I thought he might be able to give me an idea or at least make me think. He was not thinking at all and he suggested Šibenik. I thought he was joking with me when amongst Dubrovnik, Zadar, Split and other large centres which have long ago developed their tourist offer, he offered me a town which had recently been buried by its own citizens. That is actually almost everything I knew about Šibenik besides the fact that it was an old town which a long time ago, although no longer, had been an industrial centre. A town located on the highway between Split and Zadar, I thought, how on Earth could I spend my whole holiday there…My friend gave me a lesson, he told me that I had been speaking nonsense, that it was the first native town which, besides Korčula, had remained untouched as it was a hundred years ago and that it was not infected by tourism. My friend introduced me to this strange characteristics of Šibenik people with simple words – it is the only town by the sea in which its inhabitants, if they find you exhausted on the street, will offer you help or a dish of soup and will not charge you anything for it. This description seemed rather pathetic, but at the same time intriguing.
After long second thoughts and as I became aware of the bad feeling which comes to me every time I take into account prejudices which I usually resent very much in others, I drew an adventurous conclusion that maybe was not such a bad idea. I could always run away to Vodice or Primošten if I found it intolerable, I consoled myself. I called my three friends who are usually my companions during the summer holiday and relatively quickly found accommodation in an apartment in the town centre. Until the day of departure I didn’t think about spending my summer holidays in Šibenik, I was not euphoric and I didn’t expect much of it all. Maybe superstition influenced me, so I thought that something pleasant always happens when you least expect it. Besides a dish of soup when in crisis. I’m joking, naturally.
We arrived at our destination in mid-August. We had some issues with parking in the town centre, but we found our apartment relatively quickly. A cosy apartment with two rooms and an additional bed in the living room which had a view over one of Šibenik’s squares. I am not sure when I fell in love with it. Maybe that had already happened at first sight, maybe when the following morning we were woken up by a neighbour who, with so much energy was trying to persuade her husband that ‘postole’, a local word she used for shoes, and laundry could not be left on the ‘katriga’ (another local word for chair) (there were many words that confused me, but later I deciphered them) and carried on this way for hours, or maybe it happened on our first night, on our way back from the drink we had in town, we encountered a klapa singing quietly around midnight on a corner, so spontaneously and without any programme or schedule. It was an unforgettable moment, something priceless, as a certain advertisement would say. I would like to avoid any emotions that usually appear in travel reports, but when Šibenik is the subject I can no longer be objective.
Just a klapa, five or six guys that had come together without any special reason to sing created a timeless impression in me, and everything else I saw in this town only upgraded that first impression. So we spent seven incredible days in Šibenik. Later I did some research on klapas and was told that the opening of a klapa song museum was being planned. People explained to me, with regard to that theme, that Šibenik was actually known for its singing and numerous artists marking the Croatian music scene had come from Šibenik, and there was also the coincidence that the majority of famous modern people actually came from a single street. I went along with a few guys from Šibenik who took me there just because I asked them nicely. I passed along that famous Nikola Tesla Street and walked by the houses of Arsen Dedić, Mišo Kovač and Ivana Kovač, Vice Vukov. There is not much to see in that particular Street, but you somehow feel strange in this small seminary of huge musical talent.
Later, with the same group of people who in the end became our friends, I visited Šibenik’s fortresses. I was fascinated by the St. Nicholas fortress built in the Venetian style at the very entrance to St. Anthony’s Channel (another special story). I froze when I saw the view from the Fortica, I was overwhelmed when I saw the potential of the completely abandoned St. John’s Fortress which could become a tourist pearl and I was cheered up when they informed me about the construction of a stage on St. Michael’s Fortress. I had been walking through the streets for days, I observed stone floored houses, I recorded windows and shutters, from time to time I would sit for a drink or have lunch in some of the small restaurants or I would sit anywhere just to look around me. I actually barely managed to go for a swim. I would only bathe in the evening when we used to visit one or other of the beach bars on Brodarica or at the Banj beach in the centre of Šibenik from where the view over Šibenik – this not being an empty phrase– is worth a million dollars.
And people – bitter, full of temperament, benign eccentrics that find everything difficult, but who will do anything you ask from them…
From the town I considered ridiculous, Šibenik turned out to be a place where I found a true beauty that could not be found everywhere else, a peace that I missed so much, an autochthonous charm that I had been searching for in all the world’s destinations but which had always been hidden behind the development of exaggerated tourism. I have actually only found myself in a town like Šibenik twice before in my lifetime, one that thrilled me and remained forever in my memory. The only other towns are the Greek islet of Santorini and the Spanish town of hanging houses, Cuenca, which were equally and coarsely beautiful. Moreover, with their spectacular architecture and nature they had strict but hospitable and complaisant inhabitants who didn’t treat me like a stranger who had to be “robbed”. In spite of the tourism, life was still going on there.
Certainly, after those spectacular seven days, I returned to Varaždin richer for many things summed up in my impressions and with several new Facebook friends. All my prejudices capitulated in front of this architectural miracle located, as I thought before, on the highway between Split and Zadar. And I booked my time for that area for the following summer holidays too. I didn’t have chance to visit the Krka and Kornati National Parks, a number of agricultural families who I wanted to visit as well as the stone streets along which I must walk again and the new friends I have to catch up with.