For the last five days, we’ve been in Jelsa, a delightful village just 30 minutes from where we were staying in Hvar Town but it’s a completely different world here. There are no cars allowed in the village so it’s the perfect scooting environment for Theo. There’s a town square and a boardwalk “riva” lined with cafes and shops. It’s way more family-friendly and authentic-feeling than party-loving Hvar Town. It seems as if many tourists have cleared out by now so it’s pleasantly uncrowded but still buzzing with local life.
Theo has never been happier. He can freely scoot where he likes and the scale of the town is like Mr. Rogers neighborhood. Rafe and I were even able to enjoy a meal at a cafe one day in relative silence while Theo scooted round and round an old well out front.
From our limited experience, Croatians are very friendly. Yesterday, a neighbor selling vegetables and olive oil out of her home stopped Theo and offered him a nice-looking tomato (maybe not so exciting when you’re 3) but later in the afternoon, when we walked by an ice cream stand and Theo stood longingly in front of it, the teen scooping behind it offered him a free cone! Theo, to his credit, said he had just had a lollipop and wasn’t sure…but was I going to say no when the guy was being so nice? Well, no. And tonight after dinner, the same thing happened. Another free cone! Kid heaven here, I tell ya.
Our apartment is located above a popular fish restaurant. You actually have to walk through the restaurant to get in our front door. It makes for some noise at night but it’s not all bad. Theo even made friends with the owner. After daily small talk and many invitations to dine there, we finally did one night whereupon Theo asked where the owner was from (um Croatia) and Theo responded proudly, I’m from California. He then asked the owner if he spoke English, and when he said yes, Theo responded, “You don’t speak English very good.” Oy. We’re working on being more polite, but it’s nice to see him enjoy adult interaction like this, a change of pace from his usual shyness around strangers.
You wouldn’t expect it given its location smack-dab in the middle of the village, but our apartment is a hidden garden paradise (in fact, that’s its Airbnb headline). Not all of the places we’ve picked have been winners but this one is a gem. There’s a lush backyard full of fruit trees where we’ve been eating breakfast and doing evening yoga (ok, we did that once, but it was nice!) One night, bats flew overhead. Then the stars came out, and our city kid asked what they were (!) and if we needed a flashlight to see them better.
And a true village experience: very early on Sunday morning, bells from a nearby church rang for a straight HOUR, prompting questions from Theo about religion and church. In case you were wondering: trying to explain the concept of religion to a preschooler whose favorite word is still “why”–and before coffee at that–is not advisable.
Jelsa has made me see why Croatia is such a travel hot spot but as far as the food goes, so far it has been rather…unremarkable. Every restaurant we’ve been to, despite jazzy names and promises indicating otherwise, serves basically the same menu: pizza, pasta, and grilled fish with grilled vegetables. Even the supermarkets have little variety and the produce selection is limited to grapes, dates, tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, and potatoes. The wine is good and cheap, though! Add sunny days (supposedly Hvar has some of the sunniest weather in Europe), going to the beach to dig in the sand for hours, and swimming in turquoise water…what more can one ask for? Not much, except or maybe some hot sauce.