Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight


I spent two weeks in Croatia and all I brought back was a few flowery blog posts

 

Every morning began simply, just like this.

croatian breakfast

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Breakfast, prepared by my mother-in-law, served at the long wooden table in the family’s apartment in Split. Vin’s dad, usually in a soft white t-shirt, thumbing through the local paper, following the World Cup with a kind of fervor that’s difficult to describe. A white ceramic plate stacked with slices of prsut, salty and substantial, sliced a quarter-inch thicker than its delicate cousin prosciutto in neighboring Italy. Triangles of sharp, hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, the one Vin’s mom calls “heavy duty cheese”, stacked next to a tiny mound of a softer one, wetter and more tangy, like feta. There’s always a basket of bread (torn, never sliced) and an assortment of insanely fresh fruit– strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon– sold by one of the old Croatian women five minutes away in the market, the ones who’ve lived through it all and have no time to charm you. They fill your bag with seven tomatoes instead of the three you’ve asked for because it’s already 2pm and they need to get rid of their produce. They charge you more than you intended to pay because they have earned the right to survive.

fruit market in Split Croatia

traditional Croatian bread

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Every morning at breakfast, we discussed plans for the day. I didn’t create an itinerary for this trip because I knew the agenda wouldn’t really be my own, and it shouldn’t be, because I will never know this place they way my mother and father-in-law do—from experience, from weekly Skype calls with their siblings and nephews and sisters-in-law, from sense memory.

We drove two and a half hours, near the coast of Bosnia Herzegovina to tour Plitvice Lakes, the spectacular national park where you cross the front gate and are immediately greeted by God’s grandest waterfall. We puttered like a flock of ducks behind thousands of tourists over rail-less wooden runways, crossing over open streams of water so unimaginably blue it’s hard to believe they belong to this world. The 16 lakes change from aqua to cerulean to sapphire throughout the day depending on the minerals floating around them, the particular way they’re struck by the sun.

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Plitvice Lakes Croatia

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We spent a late morning and an early afternoon at the local’s beach in Split, where my mother-in-law and I seemed like the only women wearing one-pieces in a universe of string bikinis. Everyone there looked liberated and relaxed, unencumbered by age or size—they all simply chose to wear the least amount of fabric because they liked the way the sun felt on their skin. The water was crystal clear and freezing cold and no matter how far you went out you could still make out the floor, lined with miles of smooth beige pebbles. Mothers called out to speedoed children—“Dodi ovdje! Dodi ovdje” (come here! come here!) when they swam too far and older women gathered beneath the shade of an olive tree, chatting like birds and smoking long, skinny cigarettes. No one was reading quietly or “laying out”; the local’s beach was a social place, like a bustling seaside café.

beach in Split Croatia

At night, Vin and I broke from the parents and walked through the narrow stone corridors of Diocletian’s Palace or along the restless water of the bustling Riva. We tucked into dark corners and got lost in its winding alleys. We watched young locals sing from barstools in smoky konobas, perched behind metal gates on tiptoe to hear opera singers rehearse within the palace gates. Every morning at 5, every night at 9 and basically every hour throughout the day, every church in the city synchronized their bells, a distant clang and din lasting up to five minutes. A lot of people reviewing hotels complain about the bells, but I loved them. I’m not a religious person, but it’s one of my favorite sounds. Late in the evenings, Vin and I would go on our nightly trip to buy gelato from the same tiny stall where a little girl tugged at her mother’s apron from behind the long white counter. We’d get two cones and walk around for an hour or so more.

Split Croatia

Split Croatia

split croatia

We took an early morning ferry to a tiny paradise island called Hvar, where fishing boats and chartered yachts line up like childrens’ toys and rock gently from side to side. Vin’s mother visited with a distant cousin while Vinny and I explored the island on our own. We decided it was too hot for climbing stone steps so we parked ourselves at a patio table overlooking the incomparable Adriatic, drinking frozen pina coladas because no matter where I’m on vacation, eventually I will want one. We leaned back on bent elbows with bare dirty feet, watching young boys jump from the back of suspended sailboats and sunbathers coat themselves in cream, blathering on and on to each other like we’d just met on holiday. We talked about our families and our future and the bizarre new stage of life we’ve both stumbled in. We had the kind of conversation that’s only possible when there’s limited WIFI and you’re just a little bit drunk.

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hvar croatia

Hvar Croatia

hvar croatia

We borrow the parents’ car and sneak away to Dubrovnik for a few days, which proves far more touristy than Split but equally spellbinding. We heave and pant walking up and down the narrow stone stairwells leading into Old Town where we snoop around 400-year-old churches and eat lemony sea bream and charred octopus grilled in an outdoor stone fireplace. We pull the brims of our hats over sticky, perspiring faces to shield them from the three o-clock sun while up high on the defensive stone walls that surround the ancient city. We spend an evening hearing a piano master shake the walls of a palace built in the 1640s, where there weren’t enough seats for everyone, so a group of children peered from the balcony above, gossiping in whispers, tossing shadows on stone walls. We spend a transformative six hours at a beach so refreshing and calm it changes my opinion of beaches forever.

dubrovnik

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dubrovnik

dubrovnik Croatia

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Dubrovnik beaches

Later that night we eat dinner on the outdoor patio of a well-known Bosnian restaurant called Taj Mahal. They’ve hired musicians to enhance the atmosphere—a cellist with long brown hair and a classical guitarist; we realize during their 10-minute break they are not just music partners but lovers too. They shuffle around a bit before playing and I brace myself for something Baltic and folksy. To my surprise, the first note is soft and immediately familiar, one of my all-time favorite songs—La Vie en Rose—which floats quietly in the background nearly every morning at home as I stir milk into coffee or dab concealer in the arc beneath my sleepy eyes.

I lift a forkful of our appetizer into my mouth— a warm, soft dish made of cornmeal served with a tiny cup of clotted cream and a salty liquid pool of fresh European butter– and between its warmth and the swell of the music, I am overwhelmed by a feeling of utter bliss and total comfort, like the universe has wound itself around me, holding me in its sublime embrace.

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I’m so happy that I start to cry, because that’s what my body does when it’s truly relaxed and at peace—my shoulders drop, my eyes well with tears and before I can stop them—out they come. I look around at the other patrons chatting and smoking and eating grilled meats served on pillows of hot bread as big and round as baseball mitts. I’m the only person who’s crying, and I don’t feel strange about it at all. I actually find it odd that they’re not.

Look where we are.

HRVATSKA.

Dubrovnik

Croatia

europe

Dubrovnik Croatia

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There’s too much! Too much!! More stories from my trip to Croatia…to be continued.

 

Jenn P.

30-something psychotherapist. Loves cooking, hosting parties, exploring new places. Texan by birth. New Yorker by choice. Likes to tell little stories. Pull up a chair; I'll tell you one.

  • Tamara Lilek
    Split and Dubrovnik are sooooo beautiful! I’ve been there almost exactly 9 years ago when they weren’t as touiristy as today and I can’t wait to go back eventually. Now I’m dreaming about that even more as you have such a lovely and poetic way describing your vacation there!
  • Katherine Walsh
    This looks and sounds like a magically wonderful trip. What an amazing place and to be able to see and enjoy wonderful scenery and beaches at the same time as spending time with extended family members just sound perfect. I look forward to reading more details of your trip!
  • Gail in Rhode Island
    Thanks a lot. Now I have yet another place to add to my bucket list. ;-) Seriously, it looks absolutely breathtaking. Can’t wait to read more about the trip.