In my two previous articles I have discussed some Croatian destinations I had always wanted to see, such as Plitvice Natonal Park, Zagreb and Karlovac. However, the list of miracles has not been finished yet, and there was another surprise coming ahead which I had read plenty of stories about. It was just the bonus that after so many towns, castles and forests I could also greet and old friend who used to be my neighbor in Venice: the Adriatic Sea or Jadran, as Croats and Slovenes call it.
Last, but not least, it is almost an obligation in Croatia to get to the sea at least for a couple of hours. The closest port city, as it turned out, was apparently a place which I had also wanted to visit for a long time: Senj (in Hungarian: Zengg), which also bears the epithet of the ‘windiest city of the Adria’.
When I was observing the rocky, almost completely bare mountains covered only by grass and only a few trees, I could not believe how the famous wind of the region, Bora could enter this city that seems to be protected and embraced everywhere apart from the seaside.
Well, we will get back to this a little bit later, but first of all I would like to tell you about the history of Senj and my first impressions. The city has a perfect strategic locaton due to the fact that it lies on the opposite side to Krk Island, not so far from Baška I visited nearly four years ago (actually when we were taking the boat trip there back then, we even passed by the port of Senj).
Therefore it had always been an important city that many regional powers wanted to obtain in order to control the Adriatic Sea: Venetians and Italians for instance called it Segna after the name of ancient Roman colony Senia, but the Ottoman Empire also wanted to conquer the city several times.
However, Senj already had its fearless dwellers, namely the so-called Uskoks, who were originally fugitives from territories under Ottoman rule, mostly of Croatian and other Southern Slavic ethnicities (thus 'fugitive' is also the meaning of their name).
Later they became the best-known pirates and sailors all around Adria who caused many troubles for both the Venetian and Ottoman fleets, while sometimes they also fought the Turks as occasional mercaneries and irregular soldiers in order to reconquer their enraptured homeland.
Therefore, there is a lot of romanticism towards Uskoks, and people of Senj today still remember them mostly with pride dedicating places to them as their invincible ancestors.
And here comes the story underlining the power of Bora: once Senj, says the legend, was under the siege of Ottoman soldiers, so the Uskoks asked Bora for help: they chained themselves to the walls of Nehaj Fortress, while the soldiers of the Turkish army was blown away by the powerful wind of Adria.
Actually the name Nehaj already emphasizes the Uskok mentality precisely: this imperative Croatian expression originally means 'don't care' which exactly shows the courage and determination of the Uskoks from one hand, and supports the dwellers of Senj from the other one stating that they should not care, they should not fear of any enemies as long as the warlike Uskoks are in charge of guarding the city.
Nehaj, by the way, is also fascinating apart from this legend above, since it is a charming little fortress on the top of the hill with a perfect square floor map and an amazing view on the city, which is not only spectacular but also served military purposes before as the cannons implied it at the side of the hill, which was also covered with a beautiful park of cedars, oleanders and different flowers.
Nehaj also has another legend about Zelujka: an Arabic or Persian princess somewhere from the fabulous Middle East, who was captured by the Uskoks and forced to marry their captain.
However, Zelujka was unhappy with this marriage and felt homesick, therefore she jumped to the sea from the cliffs and committed suicide, but her ghost still haunts the castleside and sometimes lights a fire to feel the warmth of her homeland again on the cold Adriatic coast.
Bora, also has its myths and its character is personificated by the local people which can be described by an Adriatic saying: A Fiume la nasce, a Segna la fiorisce, a Trieste la krepa, meaning that 'it (Bora) is born in Rijeka, blooms in Senj and dies in Trieste (in Hungarian: Trieszt and in Slovene: Trst)'. Even the Italo-Croatian pidgin language of the saying is interesting and shows perfectly the close ties existed for centuries between the two peoples.
If you take a walk along the friendly and chill coastline and check the boats of the harbor, it is difficult to believe that once upon time this silent place which rather looks like a typical fishing town nowadays was the home of hundreds of daring and brave pirates.
It was great to see again the narrow streets and colorful, vertical town houses that I know so much due to my seaside trips before - which I have seen so many times at the Adria and the Tyrrhenian Sea, in Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, but I missed for example in Spain, apart from a few seaside settlements.
And I have not even mentioned the delicious courses one can try in such a city, such as pleskavica (a type of meat popular all around the Balkan, more or less like a hamburger slice) or the all-time popular fried squid (lignje) which, unlike the huge rings I knew in Valencia (calamares), here are cut to small heads and tentacles - but apart from that they can also be breaded sometimes and are usually eaten with lemon as well.
It was just the fun fact in the end of this story that after my first Croatian trip to Rijeka, Vrbnik and Crikvenica I actually tried a local wine which came from the isle of Krk, exactly from the legendary and enchanting little town of Vrbnik (formerly also known as Verbenico).
Among the many spirits and liqueurs a traveller can find in Croatia (Rakija, Pelinkovac) now I would also like to add one delicious spirit I tried there: it is the maraschino, or maraska in its Croatian form. It’s a distillate type of alcohol made of marasca/maraska cherries, a kind which is very popular on the Dalmatian coast.
Nowadays there is a couple of great brands producing this spirit that originally comes from Zadar (in Hungarian: Zára) and it was invented by a Venetian merchant, a certain Francesco Drioli in the late years of the Republic of Venice.
The name is a bit tricky, since it derives from the Latin word amarus/amarasca meaning bitter. However, unlike the almond-based Italian spirit amaro/amaretto, maraska is rather a sweet and light drink due to the quantity of sugar in the cherries it is made of.
So this has been my long-wished return to this marvelous country, where I really made a long way from stormy and freezing mountains to magnificent lakes, and from fairy tale forests to sky blue and endless seas. During this journey I could indeed see how many various impressions and experiences you can get in the very same place you visit.
The point is maybe not making immediate statements and listening to first instincts, because there is always much more under the surface if you dive deeply into the culture and history of whatever destination that hosts you.
I have seen both worldwive famous sights and hidden castles in villages that barely any foreigner knows, and you know what? I could enjoy them equally. This is my secret how to do that.