Sunday, 04 December 2022
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.

Email: mark.thomas@dubrovnik-times.com

Six weeks of walking. We have walked the same distance as Dubrovnik is from Zagreb and more. The South West Coast Path, the longest continuous path in the UK, passes under our feet every day.

Are we fitter? Absolutely yes. Is walking getting easier? Absolutely yes. And, as we close in on the end of our adventure, will we miss walking. Yes, absolutely.

This is not only a once in a lifetime challenge, but also the longest period of time I have spent outside of Dubrovnik in 24 years. And if I stay here much longer I might end up being Prime Minister, everyone seems to be taking turns at the moment. I’m not getting homesick. I have the sea, although it is more of an ocean and certainly more unpredictable, I even have the weather as the UK enjoys an Indian summer, so the “ever presents” of my normal life are here.

“What are the little things that you’ve noticed,” asked my wife just the other day as we walked through yet another seaside village. “The little things that are different to life in Dubrovnik,” she added.

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For the next few miles I pounded the path and thought. That’s the bonus about long-distance walking you get lots and lots of time to think. Clearly she had asked about the little things as the big things are evident to all.

“Liberalism of life,” I answered. “A freer and more open outlook,” I continued. Although this is probably an unfair comparison as the UK has always been a leader of broad-minded thinking.

“The complete lack of cash,” clearly I wasn’t answering in any specific order of importance. “I think that I have only spent paper money and coins in laundrettes,” I laughed. You just don’t see cash. Everybody pays for literally everything with cards or mobile phones. This was highlighted the other day when we were in a larger town and needed change for another laundrette. We walked almost the whole length of the main shopping street before we finally found an ATM. From public toilets to taxis and coffee, forget cash.

“The number of charity shops,” I thought of another. Yes, I was jumping from theme to theme a little. Almost ever major shopping street in every town we’ve been in has had a least one charity shop. They are a cornucopia of different products and collect money for a range of good causes. And they are always full. I really don’t know why these kind of shops aren’t in operation in Croatia, but I am guessing it is due to overcomplicated paperwork and bureaucracy and not because of the will of the people. I remember when I helped in organising second hand sales in town, to say that they were popular would be an understatement. So, the need is there.

We continued to walk and talk. We’ve done a lot of that over the past six weeks.

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“Nobody here smokes,” I remembered another one. At first I thought that it was because you aren’t allowed to smoke anywhere, but I was wrong. In all the time that we have been walking, drinking in pubs, staying in rooms, campsites and Airbnb’s and eating out we could probably count the number of people we have seen smoking cigarettes on one hand. There are some people who vape, although again rare, but actual smokers are almost non-existent. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that if you want to buy a box of cigarettes you’ll need to remortgage your house. Smokers are as rare as people paying in cash.

“It’s expensive,” I continued. “Although we are in one of the most expensive parts of the UK,” I added. Just to clarify certain things seem overpriced whilst others incredibly cheap. One thing that we can compare directly to Dubrovnik is the cost of accommodation. Our days start by trying to find the next destination for us to walk to and one of the factors that is important is the cost of sleeping there. Campsites are cheap, a good one with all the facilities will cost around 20 pounds, or 170 Kuna. But upgrade to a hard roof over your head and you’ll see a jump in price. Finding a hotel room under 100 pounds is impossible. And I am not talking about a fancy hotel or even a good hotel, but the cheapest two-star one. We have even spent almost that much in a youth hostel.

We have slept everywhere, in a tent, a five-star hotel, AirBnB, a spare room in a house, pubs, a pub garden (long story), pods, shepherd’s huts, hostels and even a teepee with its own wood burning heater. We could write a price guide to southwest England accommodation. Prices and quality have varied massively. Just last night we were in a pub room with a shared bathroom and toilet with bedding and decoration from the 1970’s, and that cost 130 pounds a night! And we are looking for rooms at the end of October! What must the prices be like in the height of summer?

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And don’t get me started on the price of property. Wow! Apparently it is the fault of second home buyers (another familiar story). “Local people get frozen out the market as London bankers scoop up everything,” commented one local. There are villages that we have passed that look like the old city of Dubrovnik in the winter. Whole streets where there is no signs of life, no lights, no movement and no people. Winter ghost towns.

And so we push on, we keep walking, keep calm and carry on. We can almost sense the end. Every day brings us closer. “I am going to miss walking,” said my wife. What she probably meant was that she is going to miss this adventure. “So will I, we had better start planning our next walk,” I added.

Follow our travels on - Travels With Toto 2022 

And you can donate to our good causes here - https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/mark-thomas-270

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to

         

There are currently around 8,500 tourists in Dubrovnik as the excellent tourist season in the far south of Croatia continues up to the beginning of November.

 

As the vast majority of airlines will cease operations to Dubrovnik over the next couple of weeks the number of tourists will decrease significantly, however it must be added that 2022 has certainly been a great one for the tourism industry.

 

Around 8,500 tourists are currently enjoying some late autumn sunshine, which is a massive 48 percent more than from the same period last year, and only 19 percent less than pre-pandemic 2019.

 

Once again tourists from Great Britain are the most numerous in Dubrovnik, and indeed they have been by far the most numerous throughout 2022. And Brits are followed by tourists from Germany, the USA, France, Croatia, Finland, Austria and Ireland.

Winter is coming and you’ll have to make sure to follow this driving regulation or face a fine of 300 Kuna.

 

From November the 1st daytime or dipped headlights on motor vehicles are mandatory during the day. And you’re going to have to remember to turn them on all the way until the 31st of March.

 

"The provision of Article 102 of the Law on Traffic Safety on the roads of the Republic of Croatia establishes the mandatory use of daytime lights or dipped headlights on motor vehicles during the day from November 1st to March 31st. In case of non-observance of the mentioned legal provisions, the driver will be fined HRK 300", stated the police in a press release.

 

Bicycle riders must also have one white light on the front and one red light on the rear of the bicycle from dusk to dawn (at night) and in case of reduced visibility. In case of non-compliance with this legal provision, the bicycle driver will be fined 500 Kuna.

 

The police concluded “Always have your lights on for better visibility from Tuesday, November 1 to March 31.”

 

The Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament supported Croatia's accession to the Schengen area from the beginning of next year on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, at the session in Brussels, the committee voted with a convincing majority, 45 votes for, 8 against and 5 abstentions, that Croatia meets all the criteria for accession to the Schengen area and there are no obstacles to becoming a full member of that space without internal border controls.

After the vote at the Committee, all representatives of the European Parliament will express their opinion on this document on November 9 at the plenary session in Brussels and then forward that opinion to the Council of the EU, which makes the final decision. This concludes the role of the European Parliament in the process of Croatia's entry into the Schengen area.

"I expect that the decision voted today will also be confirmed at the mini-plenary session in November. We are now in the final phase of the procedure, which was long and demanding for Croatia. The decision of this Committee leaves no doubt that Croatia is ready for Schengen and Croatian citizens will soon be able to enjoy all the benefits of membership in the Schengen area," said Croatian MP Karlo Ressler, member of the Committee for Civil Liberties, Justice and Internal Affairs.

The role of the European Parliament in this decision-making is only advisory, but according to the rules of procedure, the Council, that is, the member states, must request an opinion from the Parliament. Although this opinion is not binding for the Council, it is still good that it should be positive for the sake of the political message, and also because perhaps some members who might have certain reservations about Schengen expansion are not given the opportunity to not use a possible negative opinion as an excuse for opposition.

 

This is a marathon and not a sprint. Although marathon is probably way to small a word. Yes, we will have actually done over 25 marathons by the time we have finished. Is it slow going? Yes, of course it is. But nothing worthwhile was ever completed in the blink of an eye. It is all about patience, dedication and hard work.

I can’t put into words how challenging, but at the same time, how rewarding this adventure is. And we are taking our time a little to dive into the landscapes, learn something about the history and most of all speak to the people. When you are carrying a massive rucksack on your back you do tend to stick out as a conversation point. And with our dog Toto bouncing around as well it isn’t tricky to keep the chat flowing.

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We’ve met a whole host of people. A real plethora of opinions, ages and nationalities. The most numerous foreigners by a long way are Germans. Clearly the Germans have heard of this walk and want to experience it for themselves. Almost every day we have met a new group of Germans.

We felt rather sorry for one young lady we met the other day. “Where are you from?” Asked my wife. “From north London,” she answered. Clearly her accent wasn’t Cockney. “But you sound like maybe you come from my region of the world,” my wife followed up. With a shy and embarrassed look she answered “I am sorry to say that I come from Russia.” She had gone red in the face. What a horrible position to be in. To first hide your place of birth and then be ashamed of your own country.

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We are both in a media black hole. We haven’t watched TV for over 5 weeks, and barely have good enough internet connection to follow the news on our mobile phones. But we could see from the look on her face that the war in Ukraine was still active and whatever the outcome she was on the losing side. Swedes, Dutch, Americans and Australians, we’ve met them all, no Croatians so far but we live in hope.

The nature and coastline have been stunning all the way, just perfection. The architecture and villages look like postcards. We have walked 500 km and have yet to see a building or house without a facade. It is all finished. The countryside, the objects and the infrastructure, they have all been finished a long time ago. But the thing that sticks most in our heads every day are the people we meet.

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Now we are in a rural part of England which probably plays a large factor, but everyone we bump into are just so friendly and kind, always willing to help, in fact they go out of their way to help. Nothing is ever a problem and they are always willing to jump in and do whatever they can to solve our problem or just put a smile on our faces. “Do you need a lift down the road,” a farmer shouted just the other day as we walked down a small country lane. “I will go and get some shopping for you too,” said another lady as we entered her Airbnb. “Give that laundry to me and I will do it,” said another man after we asked where the nearest laundrette was. This happens to us numerous times every day. In almost every cafe bar, pub or restaurant that we go into the waiters come up to Toto with either a bowl of water or a biscuit. In fact, I can’t remember entering a cafe without seeing a bowl of free dog biscuits on the counter. We actually went to one the other day where the lady owner baked her own fresh dog biscuits every morning. “Today we have peanut butter and banana,” she smiled as Toto sat and waved his paw in her direction to grab her attention for another biscuit.

Yes, finding dog friendly accommodation can sometimes be a problem. But you have to bear in mind that we ware walking in remote places. In most places where we sleep there will only be four or five options on Airbnb, and we are lucky if we can find a campsite. So options for dog friendly places are scarce.

“Have you tried Jim,” asked one taxi driver. We had got completely lost on some moor land. It was getting dark. The mist was rolling in off the sea. And we hadn’t seen anyone for hours. We headed inland after seeing what we though looked like a car park in the middle of nowhere. The road was tiny and we couldn’t hear or see and vehicles. We were out near Land’s End. A place forgotten by time. “We’ll have to phone a taxi,” I said to my wife. Again we had our daily fight with finding a mobile signal. “Oh, I will be there in half an hour or so, I am just pulling up my last lobster pot,” said the man on the phone. Yes, I had phoned a local taxi company, but this is Cornwall and life is just different.

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He turned up in a vintage Jaguar. A real sailor type, with a large white beard and smoking a pipe. “You look as lost as a sheep in Truro,” he said. Clearly this was a local saying. “We are headed for a campsite but got lost,” I answered as we sat down on leather seats. This is when he brought up Jim. “Siri call The Last Inn,” he said and within seconds the voice of Jim was echoing around the 1960’s Jaguar. The Last Inn was a pub and Jim the landlord. This is how we ended up sleeping in our tent behind a pub in the middle of nowhere. Our days are strange. Fun, exciting and strange. “Right, I am off to cook some lobsters,” waved our taxi driver from his car, “enjoy the camping and if you need some help further around the peninsular don’t hesitate to call me, the weather can change here in a heartbeat.”

What will tomorrow bring, who knows. I am not even sure where we will sleep. But I do know it’s going to be unforgettable.

Follow our travels on - Travels With Toto 2022 

And you can donate to our good causes here - https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/mark-thomas-270

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to

 

       

According to the data of the eVisitor system, from the beginning of this year until the end of September there were 1 percent more tourists in Korcula than compared to the same period from the recording breaking year of 2019.

The most numerous guests were from Croatia, Slovenian, followed by tourists from the United Kingdom and Germany.

In that period, hotel accommodation accounted for 75 percent of overnight stays.

In September, 14,314 tourist arrivals and 58,040 overnight stays were recorded in the area of the city of Korčula, which is 3 percent more than in 2019.

 

You only really know how much you miss something when you don’t have it.

There are certain things that we just take for granted in our daily lives, like coffee in the morning and bills dropping through the postbox. We just don’t think of them anymore, they are just ever present. So imagine my surprise when a staple of life was ripped from my hands, my mobile phone.

In the 250 or so miles that we have covered, yes we have walked roughly a third of the path, we have seen and experienced many things. In many ways every day is an adventure. That’s what makes it fun and exciting. When we wake up every morning we never know where we will sleep that evening, where or indeed what we will eat, what we will see and do and how we’ll “survive” the day. Our daily routine has been ripped up and thrown into the Atlantic.

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Now this amount of unknown means that you have to learn to think and react quickly. Strangely your mind flicks a switch that cuts out all off the white noise of normal life and concentrates you on a few things - eat, drink and sleep. I’m not saying it is survival mode, but it certainly makes you see what is important in life and what is just flotsam and jetsam that we pick up along the way and give unwarranted importance to.

And in this survival mode one thing that we really need along the way is navigation and communication, in other words our mobile phones.

Never again will I complain about mobile connection in Croatia. I once read that 98 percent of the country and the territorial waters had a good phone signal. The same can’t be said for the UK!

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At first this was kind of romantic and quaint. In today’s modern world it just doesn’t happen very often so when it does it is unusual. However, romantic soon turns to frustrating.

Let me tell you a story about one coastal stretch on north Cornwall. There is no doubt it is pretty, well more than that, it is spectacular, a super model in the world of nature. It is also a technological black hole.

One day we walked the whole day with zero phone signal and no data connection. “There must be something wrong with your phone,” my wife said all day as I waved it around over my head. My connection to the outside world has been somewhat sporadic the whole trip. But a complete breakdown, now that is rare. “We’ve got to find a campsite before it gets dark,” I said to my wife as my headed down another hillside into another coastal village that looked like it had just been completely repainted and cleaned. They are just so cute and so clean. Some of theses settlements feel a little cut off from the rest of the world, well almost from reality. And two dishevelled walkers with a dog stand out as strangers straight away.

The one thing you learn pretty fast is that if you want anything in an English village you head to the pub. Pubs are the focal point. The social media hub. So without mobile phone connection and no way of knowing what accommodation was on offer and how to contact anyone we went to the pub. “Oh yes we have free Wi-Fi,” smiled the barman. This again was a bonus as not all places do.

“We don’t have any rooms but if you ask Mable in the Post Office she’ll point you in the right direction,” he added whilst pouring our beer.

We now had our first clue, now to find the Post Office and Mable.

“No, we don’t have any mobile connection here,” beamed Mable with a huge grin when we asked. “We’ve never had it,” she added. Was this English sarcasm? Was she joking? Mable didn’t look like a person that enjoyed a joke. At a guess I would say that she was a farmer’s wife. A practical and pragmatic person. “We are looking for somewhere to stay tonight,” we asked.

Another customer in the Post Office (which was basically the village shop but it sold stamps) turned and looked at us. “Hmmm, that’s a conundrum,” he said pulling at his chin. Were we in an episode of Midsummer Murder? All these characters around us. “Why not try the farm,” said Burt. Another man who had appeared from behind the wooden boxes of fresh fruit. What was the farm? “Oh, yes you could give them a call,” said the portly Mable.

“How can we call if we don’t have a mobile signal,” I added.

This was her answer. I am serious, this was her answer. “You have two options. Either you walk up to the top of Hunter’s Cliff to the second bench on your right, it isn’t far only about half a mile, and you should get a signal there. Or the second option is you wait for the tide to turn,” she looked at me with a completely emotionless face. “What happens when the tide turns,” I asked. “Well then the sea goes out over half a mile, you just walk out over the sand, look back towards the land and you should get a signal,” came here deadpan answer.

“Apart from climbing the hill or waiting for the sea to change directions when the tide turns what else could I do,” I was trying my hardest not to laugh at the stern looking Mable. “Well, you could use this,” she said and handed me a 50 pence coin. “Where?” I asked. “In the phone box just down that lane,” she answered.

This is how I ended up standing in a phone box (the first time I have done so for decades) speaking to a campsite on a farm. Thanks for the tip Burt. I went back to thank Mable. “By the way can I just ask, how do you guys communicate with each other in the village,” I asked Mable and a new customer who was sending a letter. “Over Facebook messenger,” she answered. “But how if you don’t have a signal,” I replied. “Only when we have Wi-Fi or go down the pub for a drink,” she beamed.

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I am still undecided. Was it romantic? Did I have a technological detox day? Or was it just frustrating and pointless? Did the people in the village seem unhappy, well no not really. In fact, when I started to think about it everyone in the pub was looking into someone’s eyes and not the device in their hands. We are all slaves to our phones, that is for sure, so to be free for a few days was liberating and limiting at the same time.

 

Follow out travels on - Travels With Toto 2022 

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to

         

This Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to midday, a traditional gastronomic event with a humanitarian nature will be held on Stradun in the heart of Dubrovnik - the Dubrovnik Table!

 

Numerous Dubrovnik hotels and restaurants, bakers, confectioners, restaurateurs and winemakers will present their knowledge and skills on a giant table that will stretch almost thew entire length of the longest street in Dubrovnik, the Stradun.

 

As every year, the Dubrovnik Table has a humanitarian character, meaning that the income from the sale of food and drinks, which will be on offer for a special discounted price of 40 Kuna for a food ticket and 20 Kuna for a wine ticket, will be donated to a good cause.

 

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Ticket sales start at 10:00 a.m on Sunday, but the official opening of Dubrovnik's Table will be at midday, when citizens and visitors will be able to enjoy freshly prepared delicacies.

 

The organizers of the Dubrovnik Table are the City of Dubrovnik, the Dubrovnik Tourist Board, the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce - the County Chamber of Dubrovnik, the Chamber of Crafts of the County of Dubrovnik-Neretva, the Catering Guild and TUŠ Dubrovnik.

 

The Voice of Dubrovnik

THE VOICE OF DUBROVNIK


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