You need three elements to come together for a perfect weekend. First is good weather. It is not the most important thing, as any Puget Sounder will tell you. However, it does make ‘good’ even better. Second is a fun and interesting activity to do. Third, and perhaps most important, is sharing the time with good people.
I was invited to go olive picking with a couple of buddies. I love spending time and going places with Florence. Nonetheless, there is something to be said for male bonding time. I soon learned that ‘olive picking’ is a euphemism for a picnic. After a couple of beers and exploring our surroundings, we picked several kilos of dark olives. Then we enjoyed a small feast of fish grilled over an open fire and some Babić (BOB ich), a local varietal wine.
After picking olives we returned to town where I met Karmela, my friend’s mother. She showed me into her kitchen and pointed to the chair at the head of the table where her husband always sat, and she invited me to sit there where soon we enjoyed more food and drink. Although she spoke not a word of English, we communicated well enough for her to announce proudly that she was 82 years old, something she apparently wanted me to know. There is no stigma to asking someone’s age in Croatia, and if you do not ask they will usually tell you anyway. I was dropped off at my apartment after as much food, drink and male bonding as I could manage in a single day.
The next day Florence and I met our friend, Tina, who helped us locate our wonderful apartment. She contacted her tour guide friend, Biljana, who prepared a daylong tour to nearby Primošten (pree mosh TEN), a twenty minute drive south of our hometown of Šibenik (SHE beh nik). It was the perfect mid-November day with cloudless skies and no jacket needed. We had the picturesque Old Town almost completely to ourselves as we strolled to the graveyard and 15th century hilltop church of St. George.
On our drive a bit farther down the coast, Biljana pointed out the hillside vineyards overlooking a local marina. The vines are planted in a patchwork grid marked by stone borders. The locals are proud that a photo of the area once hung in the United Nations Building in New York City to portray the beautiful results of human labor. These vineyards, famous for their Babić grapes, are now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our route took us to an agro-tourism site called Šarićevi Dvori (shar ee SHEH vee di VOR ee) named in honor of the Šarić family who have lived here for 350 years. Zoran Šarić welcomed us in traditional Croatian style with rakija (RAH kee yah), a Croatian brandy, and we drank to one another’s health. After a tour of the courtyard and house, we sat to eat a traditional dinner from our outdoor dining area perched overlooking the coast.
All the food and drink is prepared by hand using traditional methods. Zoran even revealed his callused hands from pressing grapes for wine and pressing olives for olive oil. Our main course was cooked in a peka, a lidded iron pan that is buried in the coals of a fire to stew for an hour or more and then brought directly from the coals to the table where the food still sizzles as it is served.
Since meals are not rushed in Croatia, we sat with our wine glasses and watched the sun go down, which is early at this time of year. We then gathered around the indoor fireplace to crack open fresh almonds and sip brandy while we sang songs and enjoyed new friendships in the hills overlooking Primošten, a place that time forgot.