Returning to Europe Part I: Adventures in Croatia

It was a totally different adventure than my first backpacking trip through Europe, as I’d anticipated. But the pressure lifting, the thrill of packing my bag at the end of each stay (knowing I’m on my way again to someplace new), the moments of total presence, the problem solving and collaboration, the getting lost, the flow and synchronicity of who you meet and when – that was just the way I remembered it. And that was the most comforting thing ever.

TROGIR

My travel partner, Amber, and I started our trip in Trogir, Croatia after a 24-hour layover in London. We explored the old city, traipsed through narrow cobblestone alleyways and savored sweet, creamy gelato on our tongues. Thanks to our jet lag, we overslept on our second day but were determined to pack in as much sightseeing as possible. It was warm enough to lay on the beach and dip in the ocean and we enjoyed it thoroughly. After retrieving our packs from our Airbnb at the end of the day, we sprinted down steep, uneven hills, narrowly dodging several locals speeding towards us on scooters, to catch the last water taxi of the evening. Our boat ride to Split was breathtaking but wobbly. Despite the nausea, the honey-colored sunset and anticipation of our next destination filled me with joy.

SPLIT

Generally speaking, we found Split to be callous. One particularly unpleasant experience occurred on a bus when we sat down near the front, not realizing the seats were assigned (our tickets were in Croatian and we misunderstood). It was a simple mistake and we didn’t mean anything by it, but the response we got from the bus drivers made it seem as if we were trying to scam the system or sidestep the rules on purpose. We were chastised loudly in a way that I can only describe as demeaning, glared at for several minutes, obviously gossiped about in Croatian, and then finally, forced to stand up mid-ride with our belongings in tow and shuffle several rows back to trade places with two local travelers. The glaring and scoffing didn’t end there; we endured sour-puss glances and furrowed brows from the bus driver’s co-pilot for the rest of the 5-hour trip. It was rather uncomfortable to say the least. At another point during the bus trip, while parked at a stop, I asked two women if they knew if there was enough time to disembark for a much-needed pit stop. Again, the response startled me. The woman yelled “No! Just wait!” It’s possible I could have misinterpreted her tone, but her body language was unmistakable. Her shoulders tensed and her nose scrunched, and she snapped her head forward again after barking her reply, as if speaking to me was a total inconvenience.

On the flip side, we met a very warm and enthusiastic guide who showed us around Diocletian’s Palace, which we thoroughly enjoyed learning about! One evening inside the palace, we ducked into a charming jazz bar to taste the region’s traditional herbal liquor, which was smooth, sweet, warming, and STRONG! Last but not least, no trip to Split would be complete without tasting cuttlefish risotto, which you’ll see in the last picture below – absolutely delicious.

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OMIS

Visiting Omis, a day trip from Split, was a welcome reprieve from the try-not-to-piss-anyone-off dance we had been doing since our arrival – and it turned out to be my favorite adventure in Croatia. Imagine scyscraping rock canyon walls with a wide, turquoise river flowing through, merging with the Adriatic Sea not far off in the distance. Across the bridge, a stone’s throw from the mouth of the canyon, sits an ancient cobblestone city, hugged on three sides by glittering sea waves. Shortly after our arrival, we climbed to the top of a castle carved right into the canyon wall. Warm wind whipped our hair as adrenaline fluttered through our veins from the steep ascent up a final ladder to the viewing deck. We watched in awe as the sunset bathed everything in rosy shadows. Beautiful wouldn’t begin to describe it. It was otherworldly.

ZAGREB

Zagreb, the country’s capital, was charming and notably less touristic than Split was. My favorite part was visiting the Museum of Broken Relationships and being moved to tears by multi-cultural tales of lost love. They were refreshingly authentic and reminded me of the oneness of humanity. I love the concept of honoring the grieving process. We don’t often discuss such personal matters in the public arena, but I think it would do us all good to start. Loss is something we all go through. It’s an important part of our stories, often shaping us as much, or more, than finding love did in the first place. Kudos to Croatia for seeing that and celebrating the endings.

Another favorite memory of Zagreb was buying the local specialty, handmade cottage cheese, at an open-air market from an elderly woman who didn’t speak any English and had large, wrinkled hands. Coupled with fresh, locally-grown raspberries and a little sugar, the cheese was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up! During our stay, we also took a day trip to the lovely Plitvice Lakes National Park. If you ever get the chance to go there, don’t hesitate. It’s a stunning patchwork of lakes, waterfalls, suspended trails and caves that will leave you inspired by the power and wonder of nature.

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Next up, Slovenia and Venice!

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10 Things to Do with Your Bruised Heart

1. Take it on a walk to see the sky, and feel the wind, and to notice little details along the way.

2. Sit with it a while. Let it be. Listen as it speaks. Give it your loving attention and compassion. 

3. Let it be wild. Dance, yell, write in a frenzy. Run, cry, feel its strength; be mad with aliveness – hurt, confusion and all.

4. Stare at the world with it. See it from new angles. Look life in the eyes.

5. Share it with your friends. Let them love you when you feel broken. You will do the same for them.

6. Make art with your bruised heart! Beautiful art, terrible art, scribbly art, purple art. 

7. Take it to the gym. Work your emotions out.

8. Eat out with it. Yes, in a nice restaurant, in your cutest dress. 

9. Make friends with it. Stay open to life (and new relationships) by caring for yourself like your own best friend would.

10. Stick up for it if the situation calls for it. You’re no doormat.

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Today I’m on my way back to Europe, and I’m going to take this bruised heart traveling! More to come on that soon. Bon voyage lovelies! xo

Emily

The sun casts a river of amber glitter atop the slow-moving waves lapping the side of my kayak, nudging me gradually out from shore. A large white sea lion eyes me from atop the rectangular dock a handful of yards away. I glance to my left and see your mother grinning while your son paddles their kayak from between her legs. To my right, near a leaning madrone on the water’s edge, I sense your presence. Not more than a dozen feet away is your daughter, the one I held just days after she was born, the same days during which you passed to the other side. She is accompanied by your best friend and her daughters, and they are wading into the sound, shrieking and laughing as the cold water shocks their bare calves.

Earlier that day we visited a bridge tucked into the woods beneath old growth doug firs, a place I understand you held dear and your children truly love. I watched them explore their surroundings, finding rocks, tossing sticks into the creek and gathering fern fronds to build with. I remember doing the same things with my sisters when I was a little girl.

It’s been five years since I saw your family, and since you left us. As I drove up the 101 North toward your yellow beach house by the sound, I had an overwhelming feeling that you were near. It was strange and magical, and I cried my way to the driveway before gathering myself to knock on the door. The weekend that followed was filled with stories and laughter and porch sitting; I even taught the kids how to hula hoop on the lawn. Your children carry your features on their faces, and the glimpses I caught of you made my heart ache and soar all at once. I miss you all over again and yet, I am comforted by spending time with your loved ones and learning about the corners of earth you treasured most.

At dusk, I sat in a white lounge chair gazing out at the two islands on the horizon, and as I scanned the water, drawing my eyes closer to the shoreline, I had to close and open them again, disbelieving what I saw. It was you – a faint outline of a woman’s profile with her hair down, the cool saltwater cupping her shoulders as she gazed out to sea. And then minutes later, a flicker of light danced across the water beneath the sinking sun, and it was an orange buoy bobbing on the waves. But I’ll never forget that image of you skinny dipping at sunset in the place where I’ve been told you felt free and comforted all your life by nature, family, friends and traditions.

I want to think of you now like this poem reads – resting ashore where you are surrounded by the salt, soil, air and trees of your childhood; safe, at peace, having arrived at last.

On this wondrous sea
Sailing silently,
Ho! Pilot, ho!
Knowest thou the shore
Where no breakers roar—
Where the storm is o’er?

In the peaceful west
Many the sails at rest—
The anchors fast—
Thither I pilot thee—
Land Ho! Eternity!
Ashore at last!

-Emily Dickensen

 

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