This picture, below, makes me smile. Dottoressa, Hubby, and me having lunch in Zagreb last month. Our waiter took the shot. Hubby was making a comment about something; I can’t remember what. I know we all had a good laugh. We had lots of good laughs that afternoon, in fact.
Was it only last month we were in Croatia? That’s hard to believe.
It seems that this fall has been a repeating pattern of home and away, home again, then away, then home again. Lately I’ve been having trouble remembering where I am when I wake up in the middle of the night. Am I home? At Mum’s? Or away? Maybe in the third floor bedroom of our little apartment in Motovun, or the one in Zagreb where the bed is up a ladder in a small loft under the eaves? If that’s the case, I’d better get out of bed carefully so I don’t fall and break a leg.
The other night when I awoke, I was lying facing the full-length mirror in our bedroom at home. And the reflection of the room was so unfamiliar, and so disorienting, that I had to blink a couple of times to remember where I was. To remember which side of the bed to get out of, and which way it is to the door. I guess this is par for the course; I mean, I have slept in a lot of different places since September. In so many beds, at home and away.
But you know, that can’t be the reason. In 2017 we were away for six weeks in South America, and I didn’t feel this way when we came home. And twice we’ve been gone for three months to New Zealand and Australia where, except for a couple of four or five-day stints, we moved at least every other night. So it can’t be the amount of time away, nor the number of strange beds in which I’ve awoken and tried to remember where the heck the bathroom was. Ha.
No, I think that this trip was different because no matter where we were, in a hill town in Istria, or on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, we felt as if we’d somehow slipped into the rhythm of life there. We felt at home, even though we were away.
This was especially true in Zagreb. We adored Zagreb. It’s kind of a Goldilocks city, not too big, nor too small. Just right, in fact. It’s beautiful and historic. Totally walkable. With gracious squares and lovely old buildings, interesting open markets, and quirky museums. Okay, I do admit we only visited the quirky ones, so I may be biased.
We stayed in a small, immaculately renovated apartment on the top floor of an old building a few minutes walk from the historic centre of Zagreb. We found a wonderful pastry shop on the corner of our street, steps from our front door, wine shops and grocery stores within a block, and more coffee shops than we could count. Not that we tried to count them. And for three days we sauntered and strolled to our heart’s content. We poked our noses in old churches, shopped at the street markets, climbed the cobblestone streets to upper town, and sipped bijela kava (milky coffee, like our latté) in outdoor cafés.
I chose two museums that I really wanted to see. Hubby and I both loved the tiny Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. The paintings and drawings seemed the stuff of folk tales, to us. As if the paintings illustrated the stories and fairy tales we’d heard or read as children. And yet I know they are meant to depict the lives and histories of the artists and their communities, sometimes literally, and sometimes symbolically.
We visited the Museum of Broken Relationships because I knew that my friend Frances, of Materfamilias Writes, had been there and loved it. Hubby was a bit skeptical at first, but he soon found himself captivated by the stories which accompanied each exhibit. You can read all about this quirky little museum here if you want.
And of course in between all this strolling and admiring we met up with Dottoressa, who you know from her comments here on my blog. This is Dottoressa and me, below. On Hubby’s and my first morning in Zagreb, Dottoressa met us for coffee, and we made plans for the rest of our stay. She looked so chic in her tan sweater and gorgeous leather jacket. See how she pulled the blue of her jeans and the tan of the sweater together with her scarf? Sigh. I have to confess that I was suffering from serious outfit envy here.
In fact, I suffered from outfit envy the whole time we were in Zagreb. The women of this city are very chic. Even in their sneakers and casual jackets, they look pulled together. All these fashion distractions made me, at times, a bit oblivious to some of the cultural attractions.
Case in point. When we stood at the cross-walk behind the lady in the red skirt and navy Moncler jacket, below, Hubby spoke to me. He said something that was no doubt important about an historic edifice we’d just passed. But my mind was elsewhere, and I replied, “You know, I could wear my navy Burberry denim skirt with navy tights when I get home. I know it’s a spring skirt, but it’s quite heavy, and with my navy cashmere turtleneck and ankle boots, and my down vest, it would be perfect for fall.” Hubby gaped at me, “What?!”
Thinking about his response makes me chuckle. I mean, he should know me well enough by now, don’t you think? After four weeks on the road, I was dying for my fall clothes. For a bit of shopping, and some seriously shallow fashion talk.
That evening, Dottoressa picked us up, and took us back to her home for dinner. We had a lovely time. Great food. Lots of Croatian wine. And wonderful conversation. We talked about politics, history, books, and even a little fashion. We told stories and laughed a lot. Hubby ate way too much food. And Dottoressa and I arranged to meet the next day for an hour of shopping before we met Hubby for lunch.
When I set off the next morning, Hubby said to tell Dottoressa he might be a bit late. He’d be slower than usual since he was carrying a couple of extra pounds from all the good food the night before. Ha. I barely heard his joke as I tripped down the stairs, happy to be on my own for the first time in weeks, and on my way to meet a friend and do some shopping. Hallelujah.
Dottoressa and I made the rounds of the shops, taking particular notice of the Max Mara stores where I almost gave in to the temptation of a wonderful cashmere sweater. But I resisted. We did discover, though, just how much we have in common when it comes to fashion. The styles we love, and those which leave us cold. It warms my heart to know that someone as intelligent, as accomplished, and as cultured as Dottoressa loves clothes as much as I do. Ever since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been amazed at that: how many women there are out there, women my age, smart women, who love books and culture, and who also love fashion and clothes just as much as I do. Makes me feel so much less shallow.
After lunch, Hubby and I bid adieu to Dottoressa. I was a bit tearful as we hugged. She’d been so very generous to us, two relative strangers that she only knew from the internet. I was sad to say good-bye when we were just getting to know each other. It seemed amazing to me that we’d only met in real life the day before.
Hubby and I had one more day in Zagreb before we flew home. It hardly seemed possible that our trip so long in the planning, so anticipated, and so very much enjoyed was almost over, but it was.
As I’ve been writing this post today, Hubby and I have discussed how we felt about Zagreb, and about the Balkans in general. How very much we loved our trip. How at home we felt everywhere we went. As if we belonged. Even though the culture is in many ways very different from our own. And the language so foreign to us. In fact the only things I learned to say in Croatian were “dobro” which means good, and “bijela kava, molim” or coffee with milk, please.
How could we explain the fact that we seemed to slip so seamlessly into the fabric of wherever we were? Was it because we stayed a bit longer in each place than we normally do? Long enough to get a feel for the neighbourhood at least. Was it because we were not in a hurry, had no real “must do” list, could in many places change our plans for the day if we desired? Was it because we met so many lovely people, chatted with so many hosts, and waiters, and store clerks about their lives and their communities? Or because we consciously avoided the big places, the busiest places, the crowded places, at least for the most part?
Maybe the slower pace of our trip and the places we visited made for a kinder, gentler travel experience. Which in turn abated the usual stress of travel. I mean except for using the port-a-pottie in gale-force winds enroute to Rab, or meeting a dump truck on that narrow mountain road in Montenegro, our trip was pretty stress free. And if I don’t count one very rude policeman in Trebinje, and a few oddly aggressive fellow tourists wielding umbrellas on the narrow wooden walkways in Plitvice National Park, everyone we met was lovely.
In fact, the only downside to the whole trip is that once home in Ottawa for a couple of weeks, laundry done, and closet turned, I headed down east to my mum’s for two weeks, then came home from home, and now I’m having trouble when I wake up in the dead of night figuring out where in the heck I am. Am I home in Ottawa? Home in New Brunswick? Or away, in all those other places in which we felt so at home?
I tell you folks, it’s kind of doing my head in.
But, you know, I think what I’ve learned from all this is that the best kind of travel is the kind where you can feel at home no matter where you are. What do you think?