One minute you’re fast asleep and dreaming, the next minute you’re on the back of a scooter, hurtling around bends on a paradise island, holding on to the most perfectly sculpted six pack you’ve ever seen, with your goofy version of a Duchenne smile reaching from ear to ear.
Today I wasn’t quite sure when reverie ended and reality began.
As I’ve witnessed first-hand, the whole island of Mljet cannot be explored fully, or enjoyably, by bicycle alone, so I was more than happy to be chauffeured around on the back of a two-wheeled wonder.
We set off early and headed to Polače for a pitstop coffee and breakfast at Restaurant Antica overlooking the bay.
Conversation turned to summarise last night’s ridiculously quixotic film-like setting for a first date. We’d sat on the terrace enjoying Marin’s finest platters and homemade wines before meandering down to the deserted marina and dangling our legs over the water’s edge, watching the waves come in by the light of the sinking sun.
Obviously it was only a romantic film on mute.
When you turned up the volume to hear our Northern bantz and cackles it was more like the outtakes from Take Me Out. We did not stop laughing from the second he’d arrived. Considering I’ve been on some first dates where I’ve wanted to run away before I’ve even said hello, it was a pretty big risk agreeing to somebody visiting me in a remote village on a tiny island – the only escape route would have been a very painful thirteen-hour hike with all my bags.
…but sometimes taking a risk turns out to be the best thing you ever did.
This was the first real clouded day of my trip so far, but given the climate, I’d expected nothing more than a few light showers to clear the skies before the sun would be back out to play. So obviously, I had no qualms with wearing a white dress and thought it was going to be a perfect day for exploring the famous salt lakes; Malo and Veliko Jezero.
The rain started just as we arrived.
The air was warm and the droplets were super-sized. The sound they made when they came slowly crashing to the floor was so loud and dramatic, it reminded me of that horrendously creepy, apocalyptic scene from the film Magnolia, when millions of giant slimy pink frogs are falling from the sky and thumping down on earth.
We arrived at Veliko Jezero and took a small boat to the Island of St Mary – another idyllic setting for a Holidate.
There’s a walking path that takes you right around the lake which would have been lovely but after last week’s Mljet bootcamp, my aching legs were begging me to give them a break. So instead, we sat down outside the Benedictine monastery, people watching for a while, before exploring the 0.5 acres of 12th century history together.
We followed the chalk-coloured footpath upwards and found a bench in a secluded spot, under the shade of Aleppo pines. Sat there overlooking the east-side of the lake, both silently deep in thought, he took me by surprise and leaned in for a kiss.
I let the butterflies in my stomach settle, swallowed my beaming smile, and stood up to carry on towards the sound of a soft choir voice singing.
The soprano syllables led us in through the entrance of St Mary’s church in a trance-like state, slowly rolling our feet onto the cold dolomite floor, heel to toe, one after the other. We had this tiny little chapel to ourselves and I couldn’t work out if it was eerie, or romantic, or somehow both.
After a peaceful pause, we headed further up the hill, following the signs for The Stables.
I’d expected to find the remnants of the ancient outdoor horsing area but was so happy to find two of the cutest little donkeys I’ve ever seen. One of them was a disheveled little chestnut with large, wild, Eddie Murphy eyes and long eyelashes. The other was a soft and fluffy ball of taupe with the whole 80’s punk rock hair do thing going on.
We donkey-selfied the hell out of them until they got bored and plodded away from us.
Just over an hour exploring the island of St Mary was plenty enough before hitching the next ride to Malo Jezero, the small lake.
The rain was back with force.
It was really spitting, you know, that fine rain that soaks you through.
We were already saturated in raindrops and figured we could either take shelter and shiver or just embrace it….so we did what absolutely nobody else was doing, and hired a kayak.
We paddled around the lake, breathing in the fresh pine-scented air and enjoying the sound of our oars sploshing into the water to steer us forward. It reminded me of scenes from il deserto rosso by Antonioni, except our world was filled with misty waters, verdant hues and felt full of life. Every burst of laughter echoed around the lush forest walls that lined the lake.
We pulled up on the far side to go for a swim.
The water was so warm it was like a bubbleless jacuzzi and the high salt content made it feel like we were swimming in liquid silk. We floated around in the pool of cerulean satin, looking up at the open skies and loving life more than life itself until it was time to give the kayak back.
They’re Not His Shoes
Waterlogged in white, drenched and now dithering, we draped our soaking wet towels around our shoulders for an extra layer and got back on board the boat to Pristanište where the bike was waiting for us. I sat on his knee, less for flirting, more for surviving the cold, and quietly whispered in his ear “they’re not his shoes“, nodding in the direction of the captain.
I have absolutely no idea what I meant by this statement.
Sometimes words pass my lips before I have time to compute what I’m trying to say. I didn’t really think that this odd-looking little man with wispy hair and three-inch thick bifocals was wearing stolen shoes. Anyway, this and many other inadvertent outbursts of insanity kept us distracted from the chillblains of reality until we reached the shore.
I’m shaking my head writing this. I‘m not really sure what the rules are for Sod’s Law, but why am I always the unlucky sod?
The bike wouldn’t start…and the next 90 minutes were complete and utter comedy sketch material.
Both of us, dressed like homemade superheroes in our bike-helmet-and-towel-cape combos. A digger in the car park, ceaselessly pounding the earth with a ground-crunching, metal-grinding noise, providing us with a perfectly fitting and eardrum-agonizing soundtrack. Him sat on the scooter, revving it like a maniac but going absolutely nowhere and me, taking shelter from the storms beneath the plastic roof of an abandoned golf buggy, trying to shout out our situation and coordinates in my best telephone voice to the Mini Brum man.
After thirty minutes of playing superheroes in the car park, the scooter people came to our rescue. And off we go…..
I’m gripping on to him for dear life as we aquaplane our way over the mountains back to Kozarica. He was rigor mortisly hunched forward with intense concentration, trying his best not to let his hands slip from the handlebars or allow the bike topple sideways as we glided round the hairpin bends. We we’re both shivering and shuddering so much that the bike was jittering in tandem with us. I couldn’t work out which was most overpowering; our chattering teeth, our convulsing bodies or our frozen attempts at hysterical laughter.
All I could think of was that scene from Dumb & Dumber where they’re on the mini motorcycle driving to Aspen and Harry is stuck on Lloyd’s back with snot dribbling down his face. Obviously, I was Harry, and the fact I’ve recently cut myself a bowlhead fringe and am currently suffering from HHHS (Holiday Humidity Hair Syndrome), only served to heighten the likeness… and made me shudderlaugh even more.
Anyway, forty-five hair-raising, snot-dribbling minutes later, our soaking wet superhero capes still flapping in the wind, we arrived back at Villa Radulj.