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But we left the party on that my last night in Janja Gora early, and I had a good night’s sleep before getting up for sunrise. That day however, Friday November 11th, was cloudy, though there was sunshine for me to read after breakfast. Lunch then was late, for a friend from Zagreb was visiting, with Daniel having arranged for him to take me there that night.

He was also immensely kind, and between him and Daniel they found a decent hotel for me, after which he set off for some work, kindly returning to pick me up. His conversation was fascinating, as we drove into Zagreb, for he dabbled in many fields, including a project for a game based on marine archaeology on which the twins too were employed, having graduated from Edinburgh University in Classics with a most impressive record.

Irwine took me to the hotel and made sure I was well settled, though I turned down his offer to take me out the following evening, for I knew I would be tired having tried to see everything I could of Zagreb the next day. But he would not take no for an answer when he said he would pick me early on the following morning, Sunday the 13th, to take me to the airport.

The hotel had no restaurant so I popped out to get some crisps for supper, and then spent the evening planning my exploration of Zagreb. I had coffee next morning as soon as the restaurant opened, and then breakfast, setting off early to walk through the lower city to the upper one. But then I found that almost all the museums and the churches were closed, since the city had suffered an earthquake two years previously and repairs were slow. Indeed in Ivan Mestrovic’s house, which I managed to find, when I went in the chap in charge peremptorily ordered me out, though then he was very friendly, and explained that there was danger still of bits of the building falling down.

But I much enjoyed walking through the city, seeing its iconic churches from outside, popping into a Sri Lankan restaurant that Daniel had told me about – though the Sri Lankans whom he had encouraged with visas were not around – and finding very quaint the Museum of Broken Relationships, the only one I found open, which Daniel had told me I should not miss. It was a collection of items contributed by individuals with notes about how these illustrated a relationship that had concluded.

But then, for it was a gloomy day, I went back to my hotel, though I did pop out again in the evening to try to see something more of the town. Walking back I saw the magnificent opera house, which sadly had no performance that night, though ‘Nabucco’ had been on the previous week.

I had a very filling pizza near the hotel, and then for about the first time in the trip looked at television in the hotel before falling asleep. And next morning there was time for not one but two cups of coffee before Irwin appeared to pick me up, another act of kindness in a holiday full of old and new delights.

The pictures are of the central square and the open market behind it, St. Michael’s Church and the cathedreal, both under repair, the opera house and a quaint statue I suddenly came across, the Sri Lankan restaurant and its delivery van which I looked at carefully when I saw Lion Lager depicted on its sides, a statue of St. George and the dragon, a much visited shrine in a small city gate, an orthodox church and the clocktower high above the city.

I got to Daniel’s on November 7th, in time for lunch. I had told him I would eat something on the way, but he was having none of that, which made sense for lunch was the main meal of the day for them.

He had prepared the most delicious spare ribs of pork, but that was just the highlight of a range of fabulous food, including pickled vegetables which were of just the right texture and flavour. They came out of a vat, which I inspected a couple of days later, for his daughters wanted cauliflower, which he was able to pick out. I was totally content with the gherkins and peppers which had predominated in what we were served, which was because they were light and permeated easily by the vinegar whereas heavier vegetables sank in the mix and took longer both to soften and to be imbued with flavour.

There was much more food, and lots to drink, wine and also a liqueur made out of carob, slightly diluted, which went well with the food. Sadly neither Daniel nor I drank as much as we used to when we first met, but that was just as well for both of us. And after lunch we retired to sleep, me in the ground floor flat which was at my disposal, him in the floor above. Yet above that was a converted loft where the twins lived and worked.

I was up in time for sunset, having made myself coffee, and then I read till Daniel joined me for a drink in my little flat. Supper was early, bread and cheese and salami, which was just right after that filling lunch. And again we retired early, and I read before I dropped off.

I was up in time to see the sun rise, taking my coffee out though not for long, for it was chilly, delighted to see the household dogs gambolling around, for they had been let out while Daniel went back to bed. Then it was back to bed for me too, as the light increased, to read and doze, before breakfast much later, up in the kitchen of Daniel and Branka’s quarters on the first floor. And then while Daniel and the girls worked on the house – the latter painting the outside walls skilfully – I lay reading in the sun in my sitting room.

That day and the next passed in just the same way, though Daniel had to take things easy since he had cricked his back. But he was able to drive into town for supplies, and the girls filled in admirably. Then on the third day we all drove, through lovely countryside, to a nearby town for pizza, in a delightful little underground restaurant, though Daniel and I had squid, which was fabulous. And that night his neighbours invited us for dinner, for which they had roasted a whole pig.

There were several couples from outside who had bought second homes here, and also a few villagers, all of whom were charming, those who could dropping into English to make me feel at home. But I was quite content to sit there in the midst of all this conviviality, eating and drinking and listening to their animated conversation.

The first four pictures are of consecutive days, sunset on the 7th and then sunrise over the next three days, very early on the 10th when the moon was still high above the house. Then there is me in my sitting room, with a picture by Branka on the wall, followed by two pictures of the dogs, of dinner on my final night with Daniel and Branka at foreground left, and of Branka in her studio. And to round up the splendour of those few days, there is another vital element in the mix, the food, a luscious breakfast and also the pickles where were so delicious.

I was given a splendid breakfast next morning by a lively little old man, whose apparent affection for Sri Lanka reminded me of what I had found half a century back. And then I set off to explore, going first to the Cathedral which was practically next to the hotel. There was a service going on and a girl at the door who said I could not enter until I stayed to the end. But that proved a joy, for the service was beautifully sung and the order of service was so like the Anglican one so that I could follow what was happening.

When it was over there was much time to take pictures of the beautiful decorations of the building. But it was just as well that \I feasted on these, for almost everything else in Split was shut, some because it was Sunday, which was rest day there, others because buildings were under repair.

So having admired facades I set off for a museum I was assured was open, that of the works of the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic. I knew nothing about him, but found his work most interesting.

He had bought a property and built an imposing house on a promontory above the sea a mile or two outside the city. It was ideal for the ideal for the display of his work, and having walked there I found no one else except the caretaker so I looked at leisure at what was in the house and then spent time also in the beautiful garden where other works were displayed.

And then it was on to an old fort on the other side of the road a little way away which he had also bought, building inside it an attractive little chapel with beautiful wooden panels illustrating the life of Christ. After admiring those and the setting I walked down to the beach and meandered back to town, paddling at one point, as gulls bobbed on the wavelets in front of me, and then sitting in the sunshine at a café over the sea with a beer. There was a headland with an old church to look at after that, so it was getting towards sunset when I was back in town, for soup at another café as the sun set and the moon rose.

Finally I looked in on another church with a lovely little cloister, before heading back to collapse at the hotel, for that long walk though immensely pleasant had also been exhausting.

I had to be up early next morning for I had a train to catch, but my little old friend cooked breakfast for me himself since the cook was due in later. And I got my train well in time, a small one that was largely empty, which then chugged through beautiful scenery to Plaski, where Daniel was waiting to pick me up at the station.

And that was where this series began, five weeks ago. But there is more to be said, about my stay with Daniel, and then the aftermath before I left for home.

Later in the afternoon I made myself some camomile tea, remembering that this had been supplied by the hotel on my previous year too, and I had much enjoyed it. And the, as the light faded, for the evenings were now drawing in, the rain stopped, so I was able to go on the balcony again though there was no sunset to speak of. I finished the wine there, and then went for dinner to the restaurant where I remembered an excellent meal five years ago. But now I did not feel up to the full menu, so I just had some excellent trout and then indulged in walnut cake, a Bosnian specialty.

I was up early next morning, and had hot chocolate on the balcony, but it then started again to rain so I had to attend to my emails in bed. But when I went to breakfast, and told the waiters how much I had enjoyed my dinner on the terrace on my last visit, they laid a place for me at a table which was under shelter so I could look out on the bridge while I ate.

At the bus station the previous day I had noticed that the first bus to Split was at 11 am, so I retired to my room to read. Luckily, when I went to pay my bill, some Americans who were leaving were having a problem about change, which I was able to resolve when I paid my own bill. And they were so grateful that, when I found they had a car and asked if they could drop me at the bus station, they agreed straight away, and managed to make their way there without too much difficulty.

But there I found that the 11 am bus was not running, so I had to wait till 1 am, and then that bus took ages – though it only left Bosnia and entered Croatia once each – and we got to Split well after dark. It was a short walk though to the old city, and I found a lovely hotel built into the city wall, which gave me a room looking onto the south gate of the city.

This was all very different from my first visit to Split 50 years ago, when I got there very late from Sarajevo, and there, in the height of summer, there were no vacancies in any hotel. A policeman who had befriended me when he heard I was from Sri Lanka – on the grounds I think that President Tito and Mrs Bandaranaike were very close indeed – took me to several hotels, and when none served he told me I could sleep on the floor in his sitting room. I had to share the space with his grandson, head to head, who was also very friendly though with him too there was no common language. For some reason I have long thought he told me he was from Krujevac, but I find there is no such city, and it must have been Kragujevac. And that too added to my sense of the great friendliness of the Yugoslav people, a sense that was strengthened this year though it has now been broken up into many different countries.

The pictures are of the camomile tea when rain was looming, followed by two views from the terrace where I had breakfast next morning. Then there are five pictures of the journey in pouring raid down to Split, though spectacular scenery. Three pictures of the city at night follow, including of the cathedral spire, and then to end with the view over the south gate of the city next morning, from the window of my bedroom.

Back to Croatia this Saturday, having skipped it on Wednesday to record the books I have published in the first 1000 days of coronavirus, which changed the world so substantially. This post is about a lazy afternoon in Dubrovnik, and then a lazy afternoon in Mostar, necessitated by pouring rain.

The first three pictures are of afternoon and evening on my balcony in Dubrovnik, and the next three of the journey to Mostar on November 4th, including a stop soon after we entered Bosnia for the first time. The next is of the bridge at Mostar, showing my exhaustion while I was hauling my suitcase up cobbled streets, with finally a welcome glass of wine on my balcony at the Kriva Cuprija, before the rain descended.

From Croatia to Bosnia

After that morning exploration of Dubrovnik, I gave myself what I thought a well earned rest. On the way back I got a bottle of wine and a large packet of crisps, and settled down with them on my balcony, shirtless in splendid sunshine. But unlike in my extravagant youth I could manage only half the bottle, and not all the crisps, before I retired to bed, to read and then fall asleep in the sun.

I was up well in time though for a quite spectacular sunset which I watched from the balcony. I still had some of the peanuts I had taken, which sufficed for the evening though, after more reading I also finished the crisps.

By then I had decided that, instead of going back to Split by the road I had come on, I would instead go from Dubrovnik to Mostar, which I had much enjoyed on my visit in 2017 to Serbia and Bosnia. I believe I had been to Mostar on my first Yugoslavian trip too, but I have no recollection of that, and whether it was on my way to Sarajevo, to which I went from Zadar, or on my way back from Sarajevo to Split. I thought I remembered the famous bridge, for my Yugolavian hosts in Slovenia had told me it was not to be missed, but I had no memory of it. The 2017 memory however was still vivid, though the bridge I saw was a reconstruction, for the original had been destroyed in the war.

But as much as the bridge, seen in bright sunshine with youngsters diving off it into the river beneath, I had also enjoyed the hotel I found, the Kriva Cuprija, named after a little crooked bridge above the main bridge. So it was there I headed, on an early bus after breakfast at my hotel in Dubrovnik.

The journey took a long time however, and involved leaving Croatia into a sliver of Bosnia, and then entering Croatia again, and then leaving it before again entering Bosnia. The Croatians stamped my passport three times, though thankfully the Bosnians only had controls at the last entry, and they did not even stamp the passport.

More irritatingly, it had begun to rain that morning, and it rained steadily all the way to Mostar, and afterwards. It was not very heavy rain, so a cap and a heavy waterproof jacket sufficed for protection, but it was still an irritating trek up to the bridge, trundling my bag along cobbled streets.

The town looked bleak and the bridge was deserted, but soon after I crossed it I found my hotel, and they gave me a lovely room with a balcony that looked onto the bridge, very different from the small room below which was what I had the last time, though that too was very pleasant with the sound all night of the river trickling by.

I took a glass of wine out onto the balcony, but after a few minutes it started to rain so I had to retreat to bed. But with the curtains open I was quite content to read there and finish the peanuts, not at all hungry after my massive breakfast at Dubrovnik.

In the time since coronavirus restrictions were imposed, I have written a great deal. Thirteen books have been sent to press, and thirteen have been published, though the first of the latter had gone to press before the time of coronavirus and the last of the former is still with the printer. With my predilection for statistics, I am happy to say that this means one book has been published for every 77 days since coronavirus raised its head – or slightly fewer, to be precise, for 1001 days and nights finish tomorrow.

Four of the thirteen published books are about my travels, South Asia first in 2020 and then the Mediterranean in 2021, with Latin America and Africa and exotic destinations in Asia covered in the next two books.

The first book that was published was an expanded version of Servants, the original having won the Gratiaen Prize way back in 1996. It was a good thing this was now readily available, for Sabaragamuwa University prescribed it for its MA course and I had to teach it, which proved more fun than I had anticipated.

Godage also published earlier this year a new edition of my Handbook of English Grammar, which had been a mainstay of my work in the nineties. When I began teaching for the MA I realized how neglected grammar was, and I prescribed the book which was available with Godage, for Cambridge University Press in India had suppled a couple of years earlier to them whatever copies they had left, for use on the Diploma in English and Education I had commenced when I chaired the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission.

Then there were two books of memoirs, both of which came out in 2020. One was an account of my friendship with my aunt Ena de Silva, much of it about our travels together, but I also covered happy times at her house in Aluvihare. The second was a set of memoirs, when I collected essays I had contributed to Ceylon Today on interesting Sri Lankans I had known. I wrote about three each of different categories, diplomats and civil servants and politicians and chairs of the Civil Rights Movement, poets and British Council personnel and what I termed chatelaines (including Ena) and international figures (Lakshman Kadirgamar and Geoffrey Bawa and Tarzie Vittachi)

Also springing from a Ceylon Today column was a political biography of J R Jayewardene, which I believe was much needed. There has been no proper analysis since his death of his corrosive impact on Sri Lankan politics, and this seems the more essential now when there is grave danger of his explosive mix of hypocrisy and authoritarianism being repeated.

Two more books arose from my regular Ceylon Today columns, one about initiatives I had embarked on in English Education at different levels, another about work in Geneva where, under Dayan Jayatilleka’s leadership Sri Lanka managed to stave off the West which was trying to stop us gaining a military victory over the Tigers.

Finally there were two self indulgent books, called Places where I read and Places where they sang. The first was about particular books I had read in particular places during my childhood and while I was at university. The second covered musical performances I had seen over the years, much of it during university days, but I then also recorded operas I had been to in odd places during my travels over the years. Putting these two books together was a great joy, for they brought back fond memories. And I was delighted when the people who have read them remarked on how interesting they were.

It was still early in the morning when I got to Split, but there was a bus leaving soon, so I grabbed a pastry which was full of meat and deliciously filling. That meant I kept nodding off, but was up enough to enjoy the view, for the ride to Dubrovnik was a joy, much of it on a highway along the Adriatic Sea. Or rather, I should say, above, for cliffs ran down to the sea, with little villages dotted below, and vast expanses of blue bays, amidst endless promontories.

The bus station at Dubrovnik was by the post, a few kilometres from town, but a short walk away was a hotel with a fabulous view over the harbour, looking across to the hills opposite which provided shelter from the deep sea. They gave me a room with a balcony, on a day of glorious sunshine, and I decided that I would spend the afternoon there, on the balcony and in bed.

But first I walked along the shore to where it curved round, and found a restaurant at the narrow end, looking all the way down the harbour, for a beer and a pizza. I fear I fell asleep then, waking when the sunshine poured onto my bed, and then I watched the sunset and read, and contented myself with chocolate for supper.  

But I was up early next morning, for coffee as soon as the restaurant opened, and then a filling breakfast before setting out to explore. The old town was a short bus ride away, and I then wandered through the streets inside the walls though I decided I was too old to clamber up them. But I loved the main square, and looking at the clock tower I recalled in 1990 waiting with a student from the ship who had asked my advice about Dubrovnik to watch it strike noon. But that was all I could do for him, for I had to catch a bus to Sarajevo where I was to have dinner with Bogdan Rakic whom I had met at a Cambridge Seminar five years earlier, and with whom I had stayed in 1986 too.

I went then into the Rector’s Palace, which I am sure I would have seen on my first visit, but which I could not recall at all. It was a lovely old building, with lots to see, nothing spectacular, but nice pictures and statues and decorative art from all over the world. There was too a room to commemorate what the city had gone through during the civil war when Croatia had become independent of Yugoslavia, with the soldiers looking cheerful despite the suffering the city underwent.

I went to a couple of churches and the cathedral, all of which had fine pictures, and also looked at the city’s iconic Onofrio fountain and Orlando statue, before heading back. On the way I looked for the mosque, which I finally managed to find, a little room in a little house, but it was interesting that this survived and was registered as a sight worth looking at.

The first two pictures are of the coastline as we drove down, and then sunset on the first evening in my hotel. The other pictures are of the old city, a defense tower and the entrance and the clocktower and the fountain, with the next six pictures being of the Rector’s Palace including its outlet to the harbour. Then there is the facade of the cathedral, a street scene and finally the mosque.

The train ride to Ancona was fun because at last, though I had been on the east coast of Italy since Sunday morning, it was only now that I saw the sea. And then from Ancona station I rushed to the port, for if I missed the ferry that evening, Tuesday November 1st, I had to wait till the Friday for the next.

I got a bus to the port but then spent ages trying to get on the ferry for, though I was directed there soon enough, after a long walk I was told that the ticket office was at the other end. Again I had to walk, but though it was very dark I still had more than an hour, and when I got to the office it was to find that tickets were readily available. But I was very tired so I took a cabin, regretting the energy of my youth when I would have taken a seat and slept on it contentedly.

There was a bus to the ferry from the office, and a nice young man at the place it stopped took on my luggage for he must have seen I was exhausted. And soon enough I was on board, and shown to a perfectly comfortable cabin, and then I dashed upstairs to get a drink and dinner since I had eaten nothing since breakfast.

It was cold on the top deck, but I was well wrapped up, so I had a beer up there and then another, and then took a simple fish dish and chips with dollops of mayonnaise up to the deck and ate and drank as we slowly sailed out of Ancona. I lingered long there, until the lights were far in the distance, under a moon that seemed almost full, though there were days to go for this.

I had a long deliciously warm shower and slept well, but set my alarm so I would be up for the sunrise. Needless to day, I was far too early, for a long time the only person astir, looking nostalgically at the few youngsters spread out on the ground. But the bar provided coffee and I was up on deck, moving now to the bow so I could see the light gradually emerge, and then a light or two on the shore, and then the hills of Croatia.

Birds were stirring, and a few boats, as we moved into dock, and I stayed there till the ship had stopped, and then packed up hastily and trundled my little suitcase off while the cars which had filled the ferry drove away. But it was a short enough walk to town, or rather the outskirts where the bus station was, for I had decided that, instead of finding a hotel and then waiting to be admitted, I would go on to Dubrovnik.

That had not initially been my plan, but with three days to spare I thought I should return to the place I had loved on my first visit to Yugoslavia in 1972, so much so that four years later I detoured to stay there again on my way to Greece. I had been back twice more, on the ship, in 1986 and 1990, and thought I should not pass up the opportunity to bid farewell to the place. 

The pictures move from the train ride to the lights of Ancona behind us with the moon above the town, and then morning coffee on the bow, with another aficionado of emerging light, and then the emerging town; and then another cycle, Ancona before we left and fellow passengers sleeping on the deck, the last lights of Ancona, an early boat near Split, and finally the sun about to emerge.

I had breakfast as soon as it was ready in my San Marino hotel so I could get an early bus to Rimini. My friend John Harrison, who taught Art History, and with whom I had planned originally to go to Ravenna – before tickets in September proved so expensive that I opted out though he then went by himself – had told me there was nothing much to see there, but I thought he was wrong after a day of delightful exploration.

The tourist office had told me where I could keep my bag, opposite the station, and I had equipped myself with a map the previous day so I could set off at once to wander through the city. Though nothing was as memorable as in Ravenna, it had range of sights, Roman and mediaeval, and modern too, for this was Fellini’s city and they had a museum for him which was spread over several buildings and open air sites.

I walked past the house where he had lived as a child, nothing remarkable but it was on my way to the amphitheatre, which was small and charming, with no one else there except two girls from whom came a whiff of marijuana. Then it was to the Augustus Arch, put up in 27 BC when Augustus had consolidated his hold on the Roman State. Rimini was an important town in those days, for this was where the Via Flaminia, one of the famous roads of old Rome, ended.

I went back into the heart of the city then for the Malatesta church which had a beautiful 15th fresco by Piero della Francesca, and then it was back to another old entrance to the city, the Montanara Gate which gave access to the town from another Roman road, the Via Aretina.

Nearby was the Sismondo Castle which also housed the main Fellini museum, which was fascinating, not least for some of the scenes it showed from his pictures including the hysterically funny ecclesiastical fashion show in ‘Roma’. Outside the Castle were other memorials to him, but before I went to the other museum building I looked at another church and the grand city buildings, one of which housed an interesting museum of modern art.

After the second Fellini museum I went on to the Tiberius bridge at the opposite end of the main street from the Augustus arch, a structure Augustus had begun and which his successor completed 35 years later, in 21 AD. I also went to the very interesting City Museum,  which had a luscious Bellini amidst other joys. Next to it was what was called the Physician’s House, an archaeological site which showcased the foundations of a couple of houses, though what had been found in that of the Physician had been moved to the Museum.

And footsore again now, I hastened as best I could to collect my bag, and then took a train to Ancona, because my plan was to take a ferry across the Adriatic, to the Croatian city of Split on the Dalmatian coast.

Rajiva Wijesinha


December 2022
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