From the moment I set foot on Silba, a small island of Croatia, I felt like I was back at home and on Rottnest Island off the coast of Perth. It is free of cars and covered in a canopy of pines pruned to form a verandah over small concrete walking streets. Every path is filled with families that seem all to be walking either to or from the beach. No one is in a hurry and everyone has a relaxed smile, sun kissed skin and has forsaken their mainland fashion for bathers, with or without t-shirt with a beach towel to accessorise the ensemble.
Silba is just 800 metres across and was exactly the relaxed holiday place we needed after battling the tour coaches in Dubrovnik and Split to the south. So like “Rotto” but with such distinct differences that it serves as a perfect cultural specimen to show what is different in Europe to our life in Australia.
Our one and a half hour fast ferry from Zadar cost us 50 kuna or $10 Australian when compared to $85.50 for the same fare to Rottnest back home. Our simple but comfortable one bedroom apartment with air conditioning, wifi and a nice balcony cost us 400 Kuna or $80AU per night. The basic Rottnest cottage rents for an average of $210 per night in peak season. The same equation could be said for every, beer, coffee, snack and meal on the island.
Despite all the neigh sayers we are a boom economy at home and this fact is apparent no matter where else you land overseas. We reap the benefits of high wages but it all disappears into high prices for everything. This equation creates a greater divide between rich and poor back home putting the simple coastal holiday out of reach of many. The only way to cash in on the Australian boom is to travel and reap the reward of your high wages in a place that is not doing quite so well. From my experience that place is everywhere on the planet apart from travel budget killers Norway and Monaco.
The other stark economic difference is in the presence of big franchises and multinationals. There are no big brand outlets and fast food companies in Silba or most of Croatia. Small family cafes and restaurants provide choice and variety. They keep the profits on the island enriching the lives of all who call it home. Multinationals sponge away a percentage for every burger or beverage you buy slowly sucking money away from the place you live.
On Rottnest the quokka, our cute marsupial selfie loving friend, rules the island. Here on Silba goats roam wild in the undergrowth. Like most of Europe “wildlife” has given way to agriculture over many centuries and true wilderness is hard to find. We are blessed in Australia with vast wild lands and they are a huge asset for our future to be preserved at all costs.
On a long walk in the forest we came across the farmer who waters and milks the goats. He heard our Aussie accents and showed he was far more worldly and wise that you might expect from an unkempt farmer in a Croatian back water. “My goats are like on Australian farms they run wild on the land.” He runs the goats and makes a basic living from the goat cheese he makes. This would not be possible in Australia with our runaway economy destroying small business and subsistence lifestyles as the large scale multinationals take over.
As I write this in the small cafe in the centre of town a waitress arrives at the table beside me where a couple and their two toddlers sit. For her a coffee and water, for him a juice and a pint of beer. It is 8am. This same order could arrive at any time of day with half of a party having alcohol and the other half preferring tea or coffee. Children are welcome observers to the drinking culture across Europe.
I’m sure you are thinking breakfast brews with the family must come with some huge social cost of alcoholism and young troublesome drinking. This could not be further from the truth, on Rottnest a drunken youth sighting is a given on any day. Rotto was the home to my one and only run in with the law, you guessed it, a new years eve street drinking infringement as a 19 year old. Drinking a beer at any time in any company normalises the behaviour making excess less likely, drinking a couple becomes normal and in the presence of the kids and grandma it never gets out of control.
Try two simple experiments back home and you will see for yourself.
Tell your 16 year old child they are not allowed to do something then go into hiding and watch them seek it out at the first possible chance.
Try doing as the Croatians do and order just a coffee at the bar on your next night out with friends and wait for the response.
You will see that our heavy handed laws associated with alcohol only serve to tie it to bravado and coming of age like no other place on the planet. Our bars are divided from other meeting places making it near impossible not to drink when you are in these social institutions. Looser alcohol regulations back home can only serve to improve this situation.
On Silba the sea is blue and inviting but the beach is more like a carpark. Bathers lie on the concrete strip along the sea and stare out to sea. No matter where I travel in the world Perth’s pure white sand and unspoilt coastline cannot be surpassed.
If you want a relaxing, family friendly break in your European adventure then look no further than Silba. Its European village culture, natural beauty and friendly laid back feel make it a perfect stop as you explore the history and scenic beauty of Croatia. Like all travel when you return you will see home in a clearer light and understand what is good and bad in the place that you call home.
Please note that none of “Game of Thrones” was filmed on Silba.
Words: Wade Ranson Images: Michelle and Wade Ranson