This was my second last weekend in Slovenia. I had decided I would like to see more of the Balkans, and had settled on Croatia. Initially, I wanted to see Split and Dubrovnik, but they were just too far away. On the advice of one of my students, I looked at Poreč a town along the Istrian coast, still Croatia, but a lot nearer to Ljubljana. Late on Thursday night, I was looking at my accommodation options there when I came across a hotel that was cheaper than anywhere else, but was offering dinner and breakfast as part of the price. I couldn’t believe it and I clicked onto the hotel’s site. It was a naturist holiday resort.
I shook my head and laughed. It’s kind of inevitable that this was how my summer would end. What better place to end your summer of nude sauna-ing and boy-loving than in a Croatian nudist colony?
I booked it, let out a little yelp of fear and excitement, and went to sleep.
Yesterday morning, I started making excuses in my head not to go, but I arrived in Poreč in the afternoon as scheduled. As we approached Poreč, we were bombarded with signs erected by Poreč’s tourist authority. All the billboards had photos of good-looking people in different parts of Poreč, looking over their shoulders at the camera. The billboards all said the same thing. “Poreč: YOU complete us.” I LOLed.
The Istrian coast is dotted with pretty medieval Venetian trading towns and with garish and tacky 1950s seaside resorts. Poreč was neither. It was just a town that happened to have the sea next to it. Like Mullingar, but Adriatic.
The resort was 12 kilometres out of town. I got a taxi. After some interesting gesticulation, I made it clear to the taxi driver where I was going. He spoke no English, and I speak no Croatian, so I didn’t expect any conversation. At the start of the journey, we established that I was from Ireland, and settled into silence. This taxi driver, a jovial elderly man, was clearly uncomfortable with silence and he turned to me, smiled and said, “Dublin?” I smiled and said “Yes. Da.” He nodded enthusiastically and encouragingly. I didn’t know what to say next. The obvious follow-up would be “Zagreb?” but it didn’t quite fit.
Eventually, he dropped me off at reception. As he did, it started pouring rain. I checked in. This was a busy place. There were four people working behind reception, and there was a bureau de change and a helpdesk in the same area, both staffed. The receptionist opened up a map of the complex. It was huge! She showed me where my room was, and gave me the basic rules, which boiled down to – you must wear clothes in the indoor restaurant, you can’t wear clothes on the beach, at the swimming pool or at the sports club, everywhere else you can wear as many or as few clothes as you like.
I made my way to my bedroom, which was eight buildings away from reception. My room smelled strongly of bleach, which I found both reassuring and worrying. The bed was queen-sized, just like me. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I undressed and sat down. Hmmm. I hadn’t thought this through. Maybe I should have brought a friend. As it continued to rain, I got out my laptop and did some work on my PhD. Naked.
Time came to dress for dinner and I went to find the restaurant. The place was enormous. There is a supermarket and a souvenir shop, two restaurants, a bakery, a big pool and sports centre, blocks and blocks of bedrooms, blocks and blocks of apartments, a caravan park and a campsite that went on forever, little fast food huts and ice cream stands and beach bars. All of them naked. Except the indoor restaurant. I have no idea why that was clothed. But it was.
After dinner, I explored. The whole place was full of trees and had a forest hideaway feeling. Squirrels scampered about. Lizards leapt around. There were birds everywhere. I felt like Bambi.
I went to the supermarket to buy a bottle of water. A naked supermarket. The woman at the register asked me the question that I associate with all of the Slavic world more than any other question. “Do you have change?” Seriously, Russia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia and now Croatia, why do shops refuse to keep change in their tills? It’s bizarre. Anyway, she spoke to me in German, presuming I was German. I don’t speak German, so I didn’t understand, but I knew what the question meant because I know Eastern Europe. I did what I always do when someone speaks to me in a language I don’t understand. I responded in Polish. It’s what my brain does. I said “Nie mam”, meaning “I don’t have any” and she smiled and started prattling to me in Croatian, apologising for thinking I was German. I remember using the same response in Russia and it worked. So, here’s a tip from the top, when you are travelling in Eastern Europe, the answer to the first indecipherable question a shop assistant asks you after you hand over your money is “Nie mam”. I also made the empty pockets gesture, which is pretty hilarious when you’re not wearing any clothes.
I slept well that night. When I woke up this morning, the sun was shining and it was 26 degrees. It was a good day to nude up.
After breakfast, I went for a naked walk. Seriously, hundreds and hundreds of naked people. Of all ages. Of all shapes and sizes. People with massive scars from operations. People with all kinds of skin conditions. People who could be pornstars. People with leathery skin from years in the sun. People with skin as white as swan’s milk. (I know you can’t milk a bird, but you know what I mean.)
I had expected most of the people to be elderly Germans. Nudism is something I associate with Germany in the 1960s. And there was a lot of German to be heard, but plenty of Balkan languages too. And English. And Italian. And the crowd was by no means elderly. There really were people of all ages there. I was particularly taken aback at how many young families were there. And I was amazed to see people in their twenties there. And there were people who seem to spend months on end there. I saw one tent that had a stand-up fridge full of wine in it.
The “beach” is very long, and hundreds of people fit along it. But it’s not a beach in the Irish understanding of the word. It is made of neither sand nor stone. It is artificially constructed. I can only imagine how ugly it must have been before for them to build a beach that’s so long. It’s made of crazy paving. Like my mother had my dad put down in the front garden of our house in Ballincollig. I can’t imagine my mother liking this crazy paving though, as it was covered with naked people. I didn’t mind it, as sand has long been an enemy of mine.
When I’d been packing for my trip to the nudist colony, I didn’t take any clothes other than what I was wearing. This seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I should have brought my flip flops though. There were a lot of stony paths, hard roads and everything was muddy from the previous day. I did what I had to. I wore the shoes I had come in. I was also paranoid about getting sunburnt after my previous beach experience, when my back burnt so badly that I couldn’t raise my arms for a week. There is a strip along my back that I can’t reach no matter how hard I stretch, so I can’t put sun cream on it. So I wore a towel on my back, like a cloak. I must have looked decidedly bizarre. A towel around my neck, like a pretend superhero, a naked fleshy middle and shiny black work shoes and blue socks on my feet.
But I had a lovely time. I lay on the “beach” and read. I sat in the forest and listened to audiobooks. I swam in the sea. I swam in the pool. I went for endless little walks. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being naked. At first, I was a little disappointed with myself for enjoying it so much. Do I have to be such a freak? Can’t I be normal about anything? But in the end I was happy. I like being a freak. And why not add naturism to the list? It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time. Don’t worry, I won’t force my naked body on you “textiles” (that’s what we naturists call people like you who wear clothes). Or at least I won’t, yet.
After hours in the sun, I was sunburnt. I’d put on plenty of sun cream, but I was still a little pink on my face, shoulders, chest and arms, and I was very burned on my scalp. I’d forgotten to put sun cream in my hair. I feel like such a disappointment. Who spends the day at a nude beach and comes home with a sunburnt scalp? There are much more exotic places where I could have burnt myself. Thankfully, I didn’t.
I ordered a taxi. The taxi driver was a dark eighteen- or nineteen-year-old man wearing denim short shorts and a fluorescent green vest top. Taxi drivers in Ireland don’t look like this. The identification on the dashboard had a photo of a middle-aged blonde woman, called Martina. These are things I don’t question when abroad. He chatted away to me in English, but only when he wasn’t on his phone, texting, on Facebook or making phonecalls while driving. These are things I also don’t question when I’m abroad.
I’m now back in my flat, tired, sunburnt and annoyed with myself as I’ve just broken the second of the two beds in my apartment. But I’m happy. It was a great weekend, and now I have an extra word to add to my business card:
Connor O’Donoghue, BCL MEd PhD DELTA, Teacher trainer, raconteur, writer, naturist.