For the last week I’ve been a bit obsessed with this photo I took in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2019. For many reasons. First it brings back wonderful travel memories. We visited Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the fall of 2019. What a lovely trip that was. Slow paced, for us. We stayed longer in each destination than we normally do on an extended trip. Thus we came to know more about each region, city, or village and its people. And amazingly, we began to feel at home no matter where we were.
For the most part we avoided the big crowds that are such an anathema to us. There were a couple of “get me out of here” moments. Our encounter with a crowd of pushing, umbrella-wielding fellow tourists on the over-water boardwalk in Plitvice National Park, for one. I thought at times we might lose an eye. Or end up in the lake. Ha. But because we were encountering crowds less often, we mostly found we could be more sanguine about them.
The walk around the city walls in Dubrovnik was very busy. But it was easy to ignore our fellow travellers, and saunter, letting people who were in a hurry move past us, so we could stop to look outward over the rooftops to the beautiful view across the harbour. Our slower pace of travel allowed us more time for sauntering. And sauntering is my favourite travel pace.
So yeah, I’ve been a bit immersed in travel memories these last few days, thinking of some of the amazing places we’ve seen over the years. But it’s not only the memories conjured by my photos that has me reading my old travel posts, and looking up specific pictures in our albums. I’ve been watching a new series on Amazon Prime. Landscape Artist of the Year. And it has captivated me even more than the portrait artist series.
I have learned so much. Not about painting per se. But about composition, and what makes a painting interesting, and evocative. And how painters find their picture in a huge swath of landscape. That part fascinates me the most.
And it’s made me relook at some of our travel photos and appreciate them a bit more. Or understand better what is wrong. It’s allowed me to see them with a painterly eye. Even if I don’t paint.
Like the photo below. This was taken at sunset on the island of Rab, in Croatia. I love how the bright colour of the sky fades from right to left. The view to the left is the old town. I love the glimpse of water, and the tower silhouetted against the sky. And in the middle ground the barely discernable row of white houses.
The travel memory this photo conjures is of us sitting on our balcony, drinking red wine and devouring what was perhaps the best pizza we’ve ever eaten. We’d purchased it at an Italian restaurant up the road, where the owner said we’d never get better pizza, even in Italy. And it sure seemed as if that were true. I also remember that my sister called me while we were sitting there. “What are you doing?” she said. “Sitting on our balcony in Rab, watching the sunset, and eating pizza. What are you doing?” “OMG,” she spluttered, “I forgot you were away.” And then we had a good laugh.
This one was taken as we strolled the old town in Rab earlier that day. I love the glimpse of shining water. The old buildings and the shadows they cast. I remember wishing I could move that palm tree a teensy bit more to the left. Not into the middle of that ocean view, just enough to see a bit of the trunk. Still it’s an image worth painting, I think. And I guess a painter could take some artistic license with the tree..
As we drove through rural Slovenia on that trip in 2019, we came to love the sight of these hay-drying racks, or kozolec. We loved our three days in Ljubljana. And Lake Bled was beautiful. But this image means Slovenia to me. The mountains and trees, the farmland, and the hay racks. I love this photo for that reason. But also for the geometric shapes in the hay rack. And for the contrasts of the dark green hill against the grey mountain peaks against the blue and white sky. Everything is so clearly delineated. But I wonder if it’s a paintable sort of image. Is it a bit too tourist brochure-ish? Or twee, as the judges said of some of the landscapes in that series with which I’ve become obsessed. Maybe it needs a brooding sky to make it more edgy. What do you think?
One of the best experiences we had on our Balkan trip was the brief time we spent in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We were moved and charmed by our time there. From the three tiny rock tunnels we drove through to get to our accommodation in Capljina on the way to Mostar, to the food we ate, and the people we met. The tunnel picture, below, was taken purely to remind us that we actually drove our rental car into that hole in the hill. Ha.
And perhaps the most iconic image I have of our entire Balkan trip is of the old bridge, or Stari Most, in Mostar. It had stood for over four hundred years when it was destroyed during the Balkan war, and has since been rebuilt. To the exact same specifications as the old Ottoman one, using original plans, and stone from the same quarry. An amazing, and amazingly respectful, undertaking. I love this picture, but I had a hard time with the composition. It’s not what I would have liked, but it’s the best I could get from the various vantage points we had. It would be amazing to draw this bridge, I think. I have some other partial views in photos, with more interesting angles, and I may take a stab at it.
And now I want to take another look at that photo of the breakwater in the harbour of Dubrovnik. I remember as the water taxi pulled into the harbour and slowed, I glanced over and saw the view below. It struck me as beautiful, and simple, and so evocative. I love it.
At the time I loved it most for the silhouettes of the people on the benches. The narratives that are suggested by these tiny figures. The couple on the left are looking out across the water. The couple second from the left have a cooler bag between them and are sharing their lunch. On the next bench two people are embracing. And on the right, one person is about to join the other on the bench. How amazing that each couple is so different, almost as if it had been staged. What were their stories, I wondered?
I still love the figures on the benches. But now it strikes me as a very painterly view. I love how the cement divides sea from sky. How the low rocky outcropping on the left and the benches arrayed only partway along the breakwater seem to balance out the sturdy tower on the right. Such a peaceful sight. But of course that wasn’t always so.
We did a lot of reading before, and during, our trip to the Balkans in 2019. More than 11,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed during the brutal seven month siege of Dubrovnik in 1991-2. Dubrovnik was one of the first casualties of the Balkan wars. But most of the physical evidence of the war has been eradicated now. An amazing feat. And on the sunny day we visited there all was well.
Taking travel photos is opportunistic. So much is dictated by where you are, and when, and what you see. I remember telling kids in my writing class how important it was to be able to see, really see, what was in front of them, and describe it in concrete detail. It’s such an important skill, being able to observe. And I know that works the same with taking photos. But lately watching so many talented artists recreate landscapes on their canvas has taught me a different way of seeing. A better way of seeing, I think. And another amazing thing about watching nine artists paint the same scene is how each of them takes what is in front of all of them and creates an entirely unique piece of art. That, my friends, is an object lesson in perspective.
You know, it’s not all been about art this week. While I’ve been scrolling through old travel photos and reading old travel posts, identifying great photos, and reliving some of our travel memories, I’ve been reminded what Hubby and I have long felt. How very, very lucky we are to have been able to travel. And I’m reminded of how grateful I am that we have been able to see so many wonderful places, meet so many wonderful people, and learn so much about the world. And of course, as a result, about ourselves.
As I said we’ve learned a lot from travel, not least about ourselves. So much so that before we planned our trip to the Balkans, we sat down and reviewed previous trips, so we could establish our travel priorities. I wrote a post about that, here, if you’re interested. I think that’s why our Balkan trip was so successful. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been on other wonderful trips. Some of them very good learning experiences. In many ways. Ha.
And I’ve been thinking that I may reprise some of my old travel posts. Especially the ones that make me feel grateful for the ability to travel. Or remind me of how lucky we are to live where and when we do. I think I’ll call them “gratitude posts.”
What do you think?