Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Glorious Danube - More Croatia

Continuing our epic Danube River voyage – the Imperial Capitals of Europe – on the River Duchess of Uniworld from Romania to Austria...

Surprising Croatia, Part 2

Having been sorted into groups for lunch, we were each dropped at different houses around the village and welcomed by the resident matriarch.

And it was no ordinary lunch, either. Each house turned out to be a local B&B, with the family providing a typical Croatian meal for all concerned. Calling them B&B’s is probably something of an over-statement as each household was merely a typical Croatian family with an extra room or two to take in paying guests from time to time.

Our hostess was Jasna Lovencic, a wonderfully welcoming lady with limited English but unlimited hospitality. As we sat down around one, long table in her lounge-kitchen, we were served a splendid tomato-pasta soup that positively reeked of being fresh from the garden and then a truly huge main course.

This latter deserves its own highlight – fresh baked chicken (from a cooker the size of the average mini-fridge – a real triumph of local logistics!), was accompanied by a rice dish, fresh pickles (amazingly crisp and tasty, and without the hint of vinegar), a typical paprika pepper dish marinaded in oil and garlic, a lettuce-type salad and fresh bread.

The whole meal was accompanied by home-made elderflower water (a really startling discovery) and Jasna’s own recipe slivovitz – still with that powerful fieriness but also an intensely warming and life-affirming tang. To say we were well fed would be the understatement of the month.

After lunch, the secret of our flavourful repast was revealed when we stepped out the back door – into a vegetable garden of prodigious size and resources (above). Fruit trees mingled with root plants, with row upon row of onions, potatoes, Swiss chard, spinach, beans, peas, chives, melon, red and white peppers, and radishes, plus a vast field of sunflowers (for the oil).

It was immediately clear – if it hadn’t been already from numerous similar views throughout every town and village – that Croatians rely heavily on their own produce at meal-time, hence every one is an absolute masterpiece of fresh delight. The peppers alone were worth travelling a LONG way to sample and every other group told similar stories of fresh, flavourful dishes.

With Jasna unable to explain much of her vegetable garden in English as she toured my wife around this cornucopia of produce, they were eventually able to communicate in German, although it took the internet to reveal Swiss chard from the local language!

And it was only after genuine hugs and a warm embrace that we were able to take our leave of Jasna and Karanak, back to our ship for a final wander around Vukovar, and another surprising onboard moment.

As it was our anniversary, a quiet word to Hotel Manager Jaroslav earlier in the day produced a quite magnificent cake with dessert at dinner that night, yet another tribute to the prowess of the pastry chef aboard (who would go on to treat guests to the secrets of Baklava and Strudel at special cooking demonstrations in the Blue Danube lounge).

To complete a memorable day, a four-piece Croatian folk group – two guitars, mandolin/bazouki and double base – treated us to a concert of traditional music and songs, all delivered with both great gusto and musical virtuosity, notably the bazouki player, who treated his instrument as would Menuhin a violin.

Yet another day of discovery along the Danube – and another fabulous reason to give it a try.

This ‘Imperial Capitals of Europe’ voyage can be booked at www.uniworldrivercruises.co.uk, with Titan Travel (in the UK only) at www.titantravel.co.uk or, for more on river-cruising in general, seek out the luxury cruise-agent specialists of The Cruise Line Ltd on this link.