The trip was scheduled – off to see the country of my husband’s birth. Did I know much about this country of Croatia? Did I ever remember studying it school? I remembered Bulgaria because I did a school report on this little known in America country when I was a 5th grader. When I met my husband, he had to draw a diagram of the eastern European countries, so I could get a visual on how the former country of Yugoslavia was set up.
Yugoslavia was created in 1918 as a gift of the world to Serbs who risked everything during the Great War. It was built on the ruins of two empires, Austro Hungary and Ottoman, bridging West and East. This country is rich in history from the beginning of time. I won’t go into any more details about the history of these countries as it is complex and layered with many peoples and rulers. I made an attempt to summarize the important aspects of Croatia’s history and had flashbacks of college research papers – finding the “right” info fast and easy. This approach – outdated and stressful for this sensitive, brave soul so I created a new approach…how did I feel when I was a part of this country’s world?
I made the trip to Croatia alone as my husband was already there visiting family. It seemed to take such a long time to pack and prepare for this adventure – I consulted travel guides and friends who were in unison to the pack light phrase. I still chose to check a big suitcase but pared down to the essentials. My rain jacket was an excellent choice as I wore it on the one rainy day we had in the city of Pula. My cousin lent me over the head scarfs to use as light cover ups to provide variety to the few tops I brought, were light and spiced my look up. Good tip. The plane was late from Fargo to Chicago. My mood? Mixed with anxiety, body in reactive mode from hip/shoulder issues and a little down about my ability to withstand this kind of trip. My first journal entries weren’t lighthearted like I would have preferred. The difference here is the awareness of my state of mind/body. I observed the stream of negativity and just let it go onto the pages of my paper. We were late arriving to Chicago and it looked questionable. I literally “almost ran” with my purse and orange rolling backpack in tow. I heard my name in the overhead speakers giving last call for the doors would be closing any minute. My heart was in the zone – My lungs were on overload as I made my way there. I had the image of Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son holding his chest saying” it’s the big one Elizabeth.” I made it to my seat on the plane and the door was shut. Luckily my seat was close, and the flight attendants were kind. They offered me water. After all, I’d upgraded myself to business class…now that made me smile. Some luxuries in life are out of reach but at this time in my life, I made it a priority and for me the investment was worth it. It made the overseas leg of the trip much better.
We arrived in Munich 8 hours later – the connecting trip to Zagreb was late and we had to take a bus to get to our airplane. Once in the air, the pilots of Lufthansa apologized several times for the 45-minute delay – he sounded sorry and noted that it was unusual in this airport. Once I got to Zagreb, it took time to confirm that my luggage had stayed in Chicago. It would be 4 days before I would see it again. Good thing I was wearing long pants with the zip off option into shorts. The first night was spent at a lovely hotel called the Esplanade. We were lucky to have a cousin who worked there. It is a 5-star hotel that had origins with the Orient Express stopping there with all their luxury passengers from Paris to Istanbul. Now this train only travels this route once a year and I don’t think it stops in Zagreb now. I happily fell into the softness of the sheets and ate homemade cheese pie and baklava that my husband’s cousin packed for him. The mood of the trip’s beginning had evolved. The Aleve that I had taken had probably helped too along with all the amenities and clear weather of the flight. Gratitude expressed!
The next day we traveled to Pula, the coastal town of Istria. A side note, Croatian buses are not equipped with restrooms. After 3 hours we finally stopped at the gas station….one of the male passengers had to ask with pain on his face to pull over to the side of the road and there it was. Pula is a beautiful sea side town that is peppered with Roman ruins and cultural influences from Italy, Austria/Hungary, and Venetian among others. Its ancient connections are such a difference from Fargo’s culture. Here history is measured differently so as I traveled I was overcome with awe in the remnants such as the Roman Amphitheater, monuments and huge gateways constructed to create the grand presence of the times. I’ve never traveled to see the original Roman architecture but now have the feel of it. We stayed at the seaside resort called Del Mar. This was a new (2011) resort with all the amenities of the family vacation – food, music (think loud 80’s American rock) and an assortment of other types of fun. It was busy, noisy and after the initial emotional meltdown, I got to appreciate the charm of the small apt. The first night was an adjustment from the 5-star hotel in Zagreb. The music drowned out the non-vegetarian friendly menu and I left in frustration to find the little grocery store. Once inside I stared at the yogurt shelves unable to read the language of what types of product they were. A woman reached in front of me and took all the containers of yogurt I thought I wanted and I just stood there – frozen, tired and teary. I would say I got lost in the adjustment of my sensitive brain. Research points to about 20% of the population born with a finer attunement to energies of all types, keener pain and other emotional signals. In other words, it’s hard to just hang out and enjoy. Yet, joy and freedom are worth the efforts of our experiences. This knowledge has helped me understand some of the challenges of changes, being around other people and managing the mind. I’m also developing more appreciation for this minority of people. We are vital to the whole! Appreciate yourself despite the circumstances. It helps.
Pula is the home of the Roman amphitheatre or the Arena. It is known as the emblem of the ctiy and was built in the first century. It was rennovated by Augustus and is the 6th largest among the preserved amphitheatres in the world. For approximately 4 centuries, it functioned as an arena with gladiator and animal fighting being a main event. Things changed when emperor Honorius prohibited the games in 405. In modern times, it is used to house events and music festivals and it a big tourist attraction. There are levels underneath the theatre that we explored and learned all about how they pressed and stored olive oil.
We spent time with a couple of my husband’s friends. They had lived in Pula for 30 years and took us to a chapel in city Rovinj. It was a beautiful structure with the sea all around. A man sat on the wall overlooking the water and played Stairway to Heaven on the guitar. Amazing contrast and one of my highlights. They took us to a monastery where we heard a young local chamber orchestra play classical music. The one monk that resides there listened out of sight in the upper level while the light from his room glowed. I remember thinking it was special in some way. Olive trees are prolific in many areas of Istria and the olive oil produced there is some of the best in the world. We took a class to learn the many details of how to select good olive oil. A grassy taste and smell, not bitter or pungent and buying from companies that bottle and produce the oil in the same place. Truffles are another delight in Croatia. It is a rare mushroom product that is harvested by first finding them. Dogs or sometimes pigs are used to locate them as they are underground. They are highly valued and have aphrodisac effects or so I’m told. I ate them several times waiting to see if I felt something. They are used in tiny quantities and mixed with food such as pasta and vegetables.
There are many islands around Istria and one that we visited was called Brijuni. This was the island Tito, the Yugoslavian President, spent 6 months of the year while in power. He had a zoo built to house all the exotic animals he got as gifts from famous dignitaries, movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and leaders from around the world. We couldn’t see his home but got a firsthand view of the area, artifacts, lots of stuffed animals from the zoo and his famous Cadillac convertible he only drove on the island. This was a favorite place of my husband as he remembered Tito and his powerful god-like influence over the people in the Yugoslavia. I enjoyed the ferry ride, the blue waters, the lunch served on the boat and the time spent on an uninhabited island that many use for day trips. It was the home of a psychiatric facility, a school for disabled children and a monastery. This was one of my favorite spots – the history and the energy was palpable. I enjoyed meditating and watching a man dive off the rocks into the sea.
Another highlight was our day trip to the inland of Istria. We hired a guide and made our way to Groznjan and Motovun, both castles from ancient times and both still inhabited with people, mainly artisans and city workers living in close quarters and I imagined very connected with each other. We had lunch at a winery in the country where we were greeted with shots of Mistletoe liquor. I went with the local wine, enjoyed while the bees hugged the windows and men worked the land just outside. I am happy to say that I didn’t run from the restaurant fearing the bees which I’ve been known to do. Instead I just watched them as they came to the table from time to time to check out the food. They were happy bees.
We had contemplated a ferry to Venice which would have been a 6 AM to 11 PM kind of a day. As romantic as it sounded I decided to listen more to my body which needed some rest from all the activities. Part of the challenge of the trip was testing my endurance as my recovery from “life injuries” was still ongoing. At one point 1000 touristy steps proved too many and I needed to slow it down a little. I was brought up to push through challenging times. When the going gets tough the tough get going was my motto for many of my crazy busy years. I’ve needed to learn new strategies – sometimes kicking and screaming – my mind yearning for the old. Anxiety or negative emotions are the result of resistance to what life is really calling for you to do. This trip was a challenge and a gratitude practice. I admire the natural travelers of the world while accepting and appreciating my own travel style. Note to the interested: Travel business class. I did for 2 legs of the trip. Yes, yes and yes. No guilt. Just appreciation.
Croatia is a beautiful country, full of history and beautiful people. I felt safer there walking around than I would here in our cities given that there are very few guns there. Our friends told us that to even get a gun it would be a long and arduous process. Interesting. Economically, people seem to struggle a little more to make ends meet and build careers…. but there is positive movement, lower unemployment now and a growing tourist industry. Lessons from my road? Respect your traveling style and get outside your comfort zone – whatever that may mean. Each of us has that felt sense of leaving the known and facing the unknown. We are, after all, made of of “mostly space” and very little matter. Being able to center oneself and learn be comfortable in our own unknowns is BIG. Beginning a meditation practice last year was helpful to ground and manage my emotional fears and physical challenges while traveling. I suggest any type of mind relaxation that can get us out of ourselves so to speak and allow the connection to the universe show itself in whatever way is right for you. I send gratitude to my husband who got to be born there which enabled me to have the experience.
Allow life to work for you while you do the work on yourself. Here’s to life’s adventures!