Umpteen years ago, I was walking in to work at 0-dark-o’clock and said out loud, “I can’t wait until I can retire.” My co-worker and friend said “really, what are you going to do in retirement, find another job to occupy your time?” I looked at her with a look of extreme puzzlement on my face and said “There’s a whole world out there for me to explore. I’ll never be able to see everything I want to see in my lifetime.”
We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take a month off at a time which is nearly impossible for most American working class. Many other countries get 4-6 weeks off every year rather than the 2 we are allotted as Americans in this working system imposed on us to do more with less and make shit work.
Over the course of the following few years, I had so many of my co-workers and friends ask me “where to this time?” I usually have an answer without hesitation because I usually start planning our next trip as soon as the current trip ends.
When I told this particular friend of mine that we were going to Croatia, she said “Croatia? Who goes to Croatia? How did you even think of that country to begin with?” The answer is simple. I look at pictures, I read travel books, I read reviews on cities, I make contact with people who live there or have been there and what they recommend. We take under consideration, the time of year we plan to go and what the weather will be like, the type of things we want to see (historical, beach, mountains, seclusion or city, etc.) and how much time we have to spend traveling.
Upon embarking on our trip to Croatia, we flew in to Budapest and spent some time in Hungary. Attended a festival we didn’t even know existed which happened to be the biggest music festival in the world. We bathed in the roman baths, went spelunking, ate wonderful Turkish food, sweat out every ounce of water we drank and at times felt like we were suffocating in the heat of the hottest summer Hungary had ever experienced…EVER. We sat on trains with no air conditioning and even with the windows down, no air coming in because the air was perfectly still outside. Totally miserable yet at the same time, exhilarating seeing the beautiful architecture and smelling the deliciously mouthwatering food from all the street vendors. Walking through huge meat and farmer’s markets in the middle of the city and watching people on trains and busses about to lose their dinner after drinking too much. We drank wine in a cave and got lost too many times to count, but that’s always been the best part traveling to us. Even-though we argue and sometimes I feel like going fists to cuffs, we always end up making it through the rough patches, but those are the things we remember the most.
To get to Croatia, we went through Slovenia. A beautiful country in its own right. So many beautiful buildings, colorful architecture, cobblestone streets and lines zig-zagging every which way on the street that I’d never be able to figure out how to drive there. Trying to speak any Slavic language is totally beyond us and Google translate only works if you have downloaded the language to be used offline or have internet connection. We stopped numerous times to ask for directions and information about what trains to take to get us where we wanted to be. Most of the people we’d encountered were very courteous even if they didn’t speak our language even though they knew we didn’t speak theirs. They’d ask if we spoke any Hungarian, Slavic, German, or Turkish because just about everyone we’d encountered spoke at least 2 or sometimes 3 of those languages. They’d even say they speak “a little” English. Well, their idea of “a little English” is a lot different than our idea of “a little.” They were all damn near fluent in English. Add that as language #5 for the Hungarians and Slovenes!
We spent some time at Lake Bled which by all means is a “Little” Lake Tahoe. It’s surrounded by beautiful tree covered mountains and has its own island with a sprawling cathedral. The water is cold but swimmable and so clear boats look as if they’re floating in air. You can also see the Julian Alps in the far distance towering above the tree line surrounding the lake. Swans frequent this lake as do many locals hanging out along the beach.
Stopping along our route in Zagreb, we went to a small museum called “The Museum of Broken Relationships.” Funny and not so funny. People send in their memorabilia of a relationship that broke their heart and send in a short summary of what happened. Some stories about revenge were hilarious, and others were absolutely heartbreaking. We hadn’t planned on stopping there, but after climbing up Lotrščak Tower with our backpacks on in a space just wide enough for my shoulders to fit while scraping against the walls, we saw a really intricate rooftop with a coat of arms in its design. On our way to find out what that building was, we haphazardly stumbled upon the museum. Turns out, the rooftop we had seen was the Church of St. Mark. Such a beautiful city filled with wonderful people.
From there, we headed to the coastline, first Split. Split was a gorgeous and bustling city. Miles upon miles of beautiful coastline and shopping galore. Since shopping really isn’t our “thing” we opted for more history and museums. The city turns into a wonderful menagerie at night consisting of light displays on the exterior museum walls and bustling nightlife of food, drink and music. Music everywhere. From Split, we went to the island of Brač (pronounced Brach). This island had to be THE highlight of our trip. Completely unplanned. We happened to be talking to a couple of locals in Split, who recommended this island compared to the Island of Hvar, where everyone goes. We hopped onto a ferry and took the ride over. Once we got off the ferry, there were numerous people waiting at the port offering places to stay for CHEAP! We saw a really friendly fellow toward the back who was unassuming and politely waiting (which I imagine wouldn’t be good from a business standpoint, but since he wasn’t pushy, I’d opted to see what kind of accommodations he could offer). We made our way to that man and he walked us to his “hotel” which was 100 yards from the ferry, right in the center of the town. They had an entire night life filled with family friendly things to do such as outdoor trampoline arena, shopping dining, and entire inflatable waterparks. They had a scooter/motorcycle rental place nearby and since it’s a mostly undeveloped island, there aren’t many other forms of transportation there.
We decided to rent a scooter and drive it around the island. At first we stayed on the roads and went through numerous fishing villages and saw some cemeteries with graves dating back to the late 1000’s. Then, somehow, the road stopped and turned to dirt. We opted to take the dirt road around the coastline and see what was around the coast. We came to a few small coves, completely deserted except for the occasional passerby that was on their way home for the day. We jumped into the water in the coves to cool off and got back on the scooter to continue our trek around the island. We ended up in another fishing village with an entire beach filled with families. Out in the near Adriatic Sea, there was a ship that resembled an old pirate ship. Such an awesome sight to behold. Clear blue skies, deep blue sea, gentle breeze blowing and a picnic on the beach. It wasn’t easy getting there though. On our way, we nearly ran out of fuel, I crashed the scooter once on a rocky uphill. Turns out, the scooter didn’t have enough power to get us up the steep terrain together or individually, and we eventually just decided to walk alongside it while occasionally revving the engine and giving it enough gas to crest the top of the hill. It wasn’t too far, but it was damn hot.
While there, Bronson lost his sunglasses and I lost my hat. SOOO, started our tradition of choosing each other’s sunglasses and hats when we are abroad on vacation. Usually we try to find items that are a far extreme from what we would normally wear and whatever we pick for each other, we HAVE to wear. Quite funny actually, because every time I look at him wearing the ugly thing I made him buy I laugh and vice versa.
After spending a couple of days in Brač, we decided to head down to Dubrovnik where we would spend the remainder of our time in Croatia. While there, we stayed at a place that I booked online just before we got there. In the description, it claimed to be a hotel. We hopped in a cab and gave him the address. He dropped us off on this long dirt road that stretched for miles along the Marina. He pointed out the address and there was a solid wood gate blocking any entrance and it appeared to be a three-story house. We decided to open the gate, completely unsure that we were even in the right place. There were no “hotel’s” or anything resembling a hotel anywhere near us. As we opened the gate, we were greeted by a table of people eating dinner and were welcomed with open arms. Turns out, this was the correct place and though it was listed as a hotel, it was actually a residence that rented out rooms. The host was very kind. She cooked us breakfast and dinner, did our laundry and kept our room clean and she was a great conversationalist. She told us all about what it was like during the Serbian/Croatian war and told us about the war museum they had at the top of the gondola overlooking the “Old Town” Dubrovnik.
We went to the museum, where it told a grueling story of how the Croats survived the war with the Serbs. Amazing, considering the Croats had no military, and all their firearms were from WWII. It was fascinating, humbling and deeply touching to see how they survived and rebuilt and have a much better relationship with the Serbs, albeit not perfect by any means.
We went down to the Old Town which had been a fortress. We jumped off of rocks into the crystal clear, warm Adriatic Sea. Walked miles up and around the Old Town walls, and up to a patio where they serve fresh squeezed juice. After a long walk in the sweltering heat, a fresh cup of OJ never tasted better! In the evening, we would jump on crowded busses to get back to our hotel, and even in the most crowded of busses, the young men and women always offer their seats to the elderly. It was so refreshing to see that people still have respect for their elders.
After our adventures checking out the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it was time for us to head to Dublin, Ireland. We got into Dublin and toured around the city for a few hours. On our way into the belly of the city, we watched as the Police flew down the streets with lights and sirens blaring. They all (4 of them) jumped out of their vehicle, grabbed a man cuffed him and hauled him away. It took less than a minute. That would never fly in America. People would think the Police just kidnapped someone. Apparently, it’s pretty commonplace there because nobody blinked an eye. Nobody was out with their phones trying to catch the incident and nobody even seemed to care. As we were walking by people, they were commenting that whoever was just picked up “obviously got what they deserved.” Coming from America, that was a little shocking.
We were supposed to have a 19-hour layover which would have given us just enough time to get a small taste of Dublin. Later that evening, we met a fantastic couple and had drinks with them at Temple Bar, where we got the 101 on how to pronounce Smithwicks. Yep, they definitely know if you’re not from around those parts. It’s pronounced Smidiks- no “thw” sound. We finished our evening reveling in the cool, crisp air as we headed back to our hotel to be rested for our long flight home to the States the following day.
We got to the airport a couple of hours early the next morning and were advised the flight was delayed 2 hours. Every 2 hours for the next 10 hours they kept telling us our flight was delayed. After spending the entire day in the airport waiting for a flight that never came, the airline shuttled everyone to different hotels and paid for lodging and food. The following day we again got to the airport early and again the flight was delayed. 2 full days of flight delays only to find out the plane was having mechanical issues and couldn’t take off. There was another plane across the tarmac in a hangar that they just weren’t using until over 200 people complained about needing to get home. Finally, on the 3rd day of our 19-hour layover, we were the first flight, America Bound. What pissed me off the most, was we sat in the airport for 2 full days, wasting our time when the airline absolutely knew they couldn’t get us home. Do they even know how much we could’ve done in those 2 extra days we all sat there in the airport waiting for something that was never going to happen in the first place? All of us passengers were incredibly angry and for all the trouble, they issued us a $200 voucher each. Really? How about offering us a first- class upgrade for your total and complete fuck up? You’ve wasted our time and made others miss meetings or have to book on another airline to get home on time for work which cost way more than $200 when you’re trying to book for that same day. Needless to say, I’ll never fly that airline again if I can help it.
All in all, we had an awesome time, met some great people, ate great food and ended up in places we’ve never heard of before where we enjoyed ourselves the most. After all, life is a journey and if you never take the risk, you may never get the reward.