One of my favourite stories of how a foreigner found Hvar is that of a rather cool Belgian resident of the village of Vrisnik called Norbert. Back in 1984, Norbert and his wife were looking for a naturist beach near Zadar which proved rather difficult. Fate sent them on the ferry to Hvar, and they arrived on the last ferry, took the bus on the old road through Vrbanj and ended up in an apartment in the old town. Not having seen the sea after the ferry, they walked to the Jelsa waterfront the next morning, were blown away by its beauty, then fell in love with the FKK beach at Zecevo, and they have been living here ever since. You can read more about their story here (and marvel at Norbert's impeccable Vrisnik dialect, as he locks liguistic horns with The Professor).
Almost four months after the Total relocation to fabulous Varazdin (and that city IS fabulous - if you haven't been, you really should), the first return to Jelsa was always going to be emotional - reunited with friends and family, so many memories. And so it proved. One of the things I was keen to see was progress on Jelsa's waterfront from the Total terrace. The morning view.
Hmmm. The initial view was a little underwhelming. Either there was an Easter exhibition called Diggers on the Adriatic, or works were still ongoing.
One striking positive change was the shiny new protective wall and surrounding paved area, once the initial seaplane landing dock, then a symbol of reconstruction problems, after a digger which fell into the sea had to be moved to Copacabana Beach, meaning making a hole in the original wall to let it through. The new look from the terrace - excellent, and a sign of how polished things would be once finished.
Of course I was most curious about the new addition to the Jelsa scene - Fountain Square.
Always an eyesore and the first impression to people arriving in the town from the parking, this square used to have parking and house taxi drivers, who have now been moved 30m away to a dedicated spot by the car park.
No fountain yet, and I am having pints with Jelsa's mayor later so will get an update from the horses's mouth, but my immediate feeling was that this will be a HUGE improvement to Jelsa's first impression. The tourist board relocated their office here last year, and finally there is a sense of a plan - a tourist board in position to welcome tourists with information at the biggest access point in the destination. It is not rocket science, but congratulations to whoever for making that big step happen.
Maybe I am wrong, but I heard somewhere that the supermarket under the arches will close soon and be replaced with an open fruit and vegetable market. That would be a great addition, and once the fountain springs to life, a very nice welcome to Jelsa indeed. I will confess to being initially very sceptical of this project, but my mind has been changed.
And every little helps...
But some things stay the same. Lovely to be back in The Office on the world's best square.
Catching up with the intellectual colossus of The Professor.
With Captain Nijaz serving the masses with their favourite ice cream (nice new colour walls!).
A little later, I took a walk along the new waterfront and was struck by how much the emphasis of the town has moved away from reliance just on the square to a whole new section of the town. With its own very eclectic tourist attractions.
One of the great hits of last summer was fabulous U Smokve, already open for the season, and applying their own brand of organic love to this square which until recently was also something of an eyesore.
Why not pop in for a bite to eat?
Artichoke has done much to raise the gourmet level of Jelsa in the last two years. Already open for season three, they have been joined by Step Up above, a late season addition last year, which I hear has been thriving through the winter. I will check it out for the first time today. The view, I remember, is divine.
Not quite finished, but certainly getting there.
The big concrete blocks that spent the summer by the rowing club have gone, as too will this lot one hopes in time for the season.
And the new town beach, Copacabana, seems to be making progress.
I actually think it would be fun to keep one of the diggers as a permanent attraction. Together with the donkey, symbols of work and progress in Dalmatia, and a great plaything for the kids.
Jelsa, you are still gorgeous, and it is lovely to be back. And while we all want the works to finish, I think you are on the right track.