Trieste: A City of Laurels and Inspiration

 

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Some friends and I visited the beautiful sea port city of Trieste in Italy yesterday, just a short ride from our home in the Istrian part of Croatia. As rustically charming as Istria is with its tiny hilltop stone villages and ubiquitous olive groves and vineyards, Trieste is charming in a whole different way.

Like most parts of Istria, Trieste was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire as well as part of Italy and those influences are seen all throughout the city. So many artistic and cultural details jump out at me every time I visit, and this time was no different.

For example, as we were sitting down for lunch at a waterfront restaurant on the Canal Grande, I noticed a few young people walking around with these large, leafy wreaths around their heads. Young men and women alike wore them, and the big glossy green leaves contrasted beautifully with the red ribbons that were woven throughout these wreaths. What could they be?

I asked the hostess who sat us at our table what these wreath crowns were for, and she explained “la laurea,” the graduation of the baccalaureate. They were graduates (laureatos) celebrating their big educational accomplishments! The tradition in Italy is that right after the graduation ceremony, students are given a laurel wreath to wear for the rest of the day.

One family celebrating their graduate was sitting at the restaurant near us, and I didn’t want to impose on their celebration, but when I saw them getting up to leave, I went over and asked the graduate if I could take her picture. I told her we didn’t commonly have this lovely tradition in the USA, and you could tell she was flattered and a little embarrassed, but said enthusiastically, “Of course.”

You could see how proud her family was of her accomplishment and her face is just radiant with happiness!

This tradition in Italy originated at the University of Padua two centuries ago and has since spread throughout the entire country’s universities. This particular wreath is made from the bay laurel tree and traces its roots back to Greek mythology.  Apparently Apollo immortalized the laurel tree after his beloved Daphne was changed into the tree while he was chasing her. Because of this he made its branches into sacred symbols to honor her and consequently,  victors throughout Greece began receiving the sacred laurel wreath for military triumphs, athletic competitions and for accomplishments in music and poetry.

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This incredible sculpture by Bernini captures the moment Apollo catches Daphne and she begins to transform into the laurel tree. I took this photo in the Borghese Gallery in Rome last year. If you like the statue, please read my blog post, “Falling in Love with Bernini.” He is my favorite sculptor of all time!

These beautiful wreathes were one of the many colorful and artistic details that caught my eyes and touched my soul in this poetic port city. Trieste is just a short hour and half drive from our home in Pula, so we have visited it before, but it always manages to inspire me in some way.  Because it is so close, we tend to take it for granted and kept pushing a visit out into the future until recently, when Carolyn and our new friend Tina from Australia decided it was time to head back.

Trieste is not as famous as it’s Italian siblings: Venice, Florence and even Bologna or Milan. But perhaps it’s because of this obscurity that the city is so refreshing and its poetic ambiance catches you by surprise. Because of its history, it has that strong Austro-Hungarian influence in its beautiful architecture and a lovely Viennese caffè culture. Of course, there are always some tourists meandering about (I mean, we were there),  but even in the middle of July, the city is not overwhelmed with them, so it seems more authentic and less touristy than other cities you visit in Italy.

Part of this authenticity emerged for us when we saw our waitress had four precious Italian girls following her around because they were bored sitting with their moms who were chatting away over their coffee. Carolyn and I asked them to come over with the waitress while we spoke to her, and they bounced over in their colorful tutus and flowered dresses acting very demure and shy. We asked if they spoke English and they said not much, but lo and behold, they knew quite enough to answer several of our questions specifically about their names and ages. They were 7 to 9 years old and their names were Flora, Sophia, Claudia and Gaia. They were perfectly charming acting like little ladies and the picture of poise, until we saw them later leaving the restaurant. Two of them were in tears crying dramatically and fussing (about what we don’t know ) and one was getting a stern talking to by her mother. Maybe they wanted gelato? But it seems kids are the same everywhere.

Walking around the city after a delicious lunch which included a caprese salad with genuine buffalo mozzarella, homemade gnocchi with pumpkin sauce and a clam linguine dish, (Oh, and yes, the food is as great as you get anywhere in Italy!) I was taken in by all the stunning architectural details everywhere you turn. Like this fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Borsa or the gorgeous mosaics covering this Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Spyridon.

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img_3294Even non-descript streets had buildings with charming old doors along with sculptures and busts of people dangling over the keystones of doorways or gracing window tops. Those types of details usually speak to me the most. Like this amazing carved wooden lion on this battered door.

I fell in love with this old door with the regal lion and the crusty, chipping paint. The lion’s brother on the door next to him unfortunately had a broken nose.

We strolled towards the Piazza Unità d’Italia, a beautiful square which is surrounded by large stately municipal buildings and faces the Adriatic Sea. It is known as the largest public square located next to a sea in Europe, and it is fantastic place to have a cup of coffee or an Aperol Spritz and absorb the beauty of the area.

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This beautiful statue and fountain sits on the edge of the Piazza Unitá d’Italia near the edge close to the Adriatic.

My friend Tina who visits Trieste regularly recommended this beautiful historical cafe on the piazza called Caffè degli Specchi, which opened in 1839, and it was one of the highlights of the afternoon for me.

 

Why? Besides it being a beautiful historical building and having a great view, I love visiting places where famous writers have found inspiration and apparently Dublin’s James Joyce, the Italian novelist Italo Svevo and Prague’s Franz Kafka all frequented Caffè degli Specchi when they lived in Trieste. I try to imagine them sitting inside the glamorous building or outside looking to the Adriatic and each creating their own literary masterpieces. Next time I return I’ll bring my notebook.  Who knows what could happen?

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After a drink at the cafe, we walked further down the Piazza to the waterfront where there sat an incredible life-like bronze sculpture of two girls stitching the Italian national flag, even though someone decided to use part of it as an advertisement for a number of products. The top picture was the front of it and the bottom was the back of it. It was creative, I have to give them that. I guess the city inspired them as well.

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And look at this guy below hanging over this doorway, he looks pretty odious with that missing tooth and wicked mustache. Was he a real person? A character in a story? And who was commissioned to carve this and why? As I wander around, I think of these things.

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Below is a statue of the author James Joyce that stands along the Grand Canal. Joyce lived in Trieste for 15 years and wrote many of his famous novels there including Ulysses and A Portait of an Artist as a Young Man. He also spent time teaching English to mariners both in Trieste and in Pula.

And here is my old friend again….

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And another friendly guy hanging above a doorway….

 

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Anyway, if you happen to be visiting Croatia, or Slovenia or Italy, you might want to consider a visit to this inspiring city, as its airport connects you to all of the above destinations. Trieste’s  rich maritime history would please sailors and seaman alike, its literary history would interest the literary buffs like myself and for music lovers, the famous Guiseppi Verdi was inspired here in the city as well and has a beautiful opera theatre named after him.

 

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Another Day Younger in Greece

Happy Birthday to Dimitra!!!!!!!! Liz, Suzan and Dimitra pose for a photo on the beautiful island of Antiparos.

June 15, 2019

It’s our third day in Paros but even more special because it is Dimitra’s birthday. How lucky are we to spend this day with her! She is such an inspiration with her vibrant personality, and her ease with everyone we meet. She has friends everywhere and if you are not her friend now, you will be after you speak to her. I promise.

She zooms around the island of Paros in our rental car stopping the locals as they walk or ride asking for directions at every turn. It’s like she has a human network of information. Who needs Google maps? Everyone we stop explains kindly and warmly pointing this way and that as we move along the island.

We travel to a beach on the north side of Paros but the wind is too strong, the surfers are preparing to go out on the water, so we decide to head to a different area, a little more crowded perhaps, a little louder most definitely but with beautiful water and energetic music to invigorate our souls.

The water is the same lovely turquoise here, but the wind is calmer, the drinks are stronger and the people more beautiful. We decide to swim to a little cove further up the beach to get away and get our blood moving. We swim slowly because I promised Dimitra I would not swim too fast and Liz fake swims (she’s basically walking along the sandy bottom😂😂) to the magnificent stony cove on the side of the beach bar. Today is just as beautiful and we see in the distance a couple doing incredible yoga balances on the beach.

The couple sets their timers on their cell phones to take photos, and he lies on the beach and she perches on his arms doing all types of balancing poses. The scenery is beautiful, but with this added feature, it is truly a gift. They finish and we yell “Bravo!“ and soon Dimitra is speaking to them and offering for us to take their photos.

The young woman is incredibly beautiful; the young gentleman is not only handsome but very charming. Dimitra speaks in her easy way because she has never met someone who is not a friend, and all of a sudden we are learning the couple is from France. His name is Yuri like Yuri Gagarin. The famous Russian cosmonaut. No, he says, he’s not Russian, but born in France.

We practice our tiny French vocabulary with him and he plays along. C’est la vie, you know and things like that. Yuri flirts playfully with us 50- and 60- year olds and we feel younger. Soon Dimitra says we have to go, but she jokes that we’ll meet him later for dinner. He says sure, just call him, making his hand into a phone. All three of us, he says and lifts his eyebrows a few times. We laugh and laugh, and make our way back slowly to the noisy beach bar with a new appreciation for the French.

We look out over the beautiful turquoise waters and feel thankful for another day in Paros.

The Incredible Gift of Hospitality

This is the way the days have gone. Dimitra takes us around day and night introducing us to her friends and to strangers who become friends. She shows us one beautiful island view after another. We follow her around like little ducklings trying to keep up with her. She calls us her babies and laughs.

“Come on, my babies!” “Ella, ella,”‘(That’s Greek for “Come on, let’s go!” She says this and we quicken our paces. We feel as if we are sleepwalking in paradise.

She knows the man who owns the vacation rental place we are staying in in Paros. His son is a friend of her son. Mihail (Greek for Michael) brings us food when we arrive, food for breakfast, and even grills us lunch one day. The tomatoes are fresh, he pulls the lemons off the tree in his garden and we squeeze them on the fish he brings us. The capers that cover our fish soaked in olive oil are grown on Paros. They are bigger than the ones I have had in the past, and they are delicious!

There is a bowl of fresh fruit in our room. He brings us fresh anise bread from the local bakery, which is so delicious we can’t get enough. Like Dimitra, his hospitality knows no bounds. He speaks some English, but we communicate mostly through Dimitra. His easy manner and sense of humor are just another reason to love this island.

We are constantly floored by the generosity and kindness of the Greek people. When we move from Paros to Mykonos, again we are welcomed with open arms by the people who own the property where we stay. It’s on a side of the bustling island of Mykonos that is calm and relaxing with sweeping views of the Island and the Aegean. This place is swankier, newer and more luxurious than our accommodations in Paros, but the hospitality is just as warm and we are served Greek wine and snacks by Manoli and his wife while we wait for our room to be ready.

Here is a link to the Niriides Homes and Villas in Mykonos in case you are wanting to stay at this beautiful place:

https://www.niriides-mykonos.gr/en/?fbclid=IwAR3HdfBjeN37BSxhRFEvXjKDPEjNiUsq1psZ9q6dgvfc89a8dIMRn6xckc8

The view overlooking the quieter side of Mykonos from Manoli’s beautiful apartment.

Tomorrow I must leave Mykonos and Dimitra, Suzan and Liz and return to Athens because I have to head back to Pula the following day. They will continue on to Santorini. Manoli has arranged a driver for me at 5 am in the morning which I am extremely thankful for.

But what I am most thankful for have been the people that I have met, the sights I have seen and the graciousness of all of the Greek people who have been stopped and taken time out of their lives to show us that they want to show you the best of their culture.

It is something that those of us from Louisiana know about, the ubiquitous Southern hospitality, but I think we could learn more and do more for foreign visitors to our homeland by following the Greek tradition and the Croatian one as well. This gift of this hospitality is one I will treasure always.

Just one more thing about this hospitality. Liz and I went on and on about the anise bread Mihail brought to us in Paros for our breakfast that he had picked up from the local bakery. The morning we were leaving Paros we went to the bakery to buy some but they were out of it. We were disappointed because we were going to take some with us to have at another point on our trip.

Imagine my surprise when I found a loaf of the bread sitting on the table in Athens when I was leaving to head back to Croatia. Dimitra had asked her son’s friend to bring some back from the island for me to take back with me. It amazed me that someone who didn’t even know me took the time to head to a bakery on an island he was visiting and pick up a loaf of bread, carry it back by ferry or boat, then bring it to Dimitra’s home in Athens for me to take home. And it was not the only gesture of hospitality I received in Greece, but just one of many.

How have you gone out of your way for guests that visit you from another city or country? The Greek people have truly made hospitality into an art form. It has inspired me in countless ways and will be something that I always treasure. Efcharistó, Dimitra, Yiannis, Adonis, Eleni, Mihail, Manoli!

“Hospitality is love in action. Hospitality is the flesh and muscle on bones of love.” Alexander Strauch

A Gift in Paros-dise

What a dream this is! My niece is in Florida with her very newborn baby, and I am on the beautiful Greek island of Paros. A Greek lady is singing a beautiful love song to me in her native tongue as I lay on the beach tanning and napping. No, she hasn’t been hired to sing to me, but if I had hired someone the song would never be so sweet.

Although she doesn’t know it, she is singing me a song of love and longing and beauty, and I feel it in my soul, so much that I am brought to tears. I think of my beautiful niece in Florida who is holding a baby that has meant the world to her for many, many years even though she has just given birth to him.

I think of my sister, her happiness and joy at his arrival and her relief her daughter is safe and healthy and content. The song sounds like this to me even though it may not translate that way to English. How can we communicate this so well? How am I so lucky to be serenaded so?

Well, it’s a long story that starts with a decision to go to Switzerland, where my friend Liz and I were able to meet Dimitra’s daughter Sophia, who lives in Zurich but urged Liz to come meet her Greek family in Athens.

The short story is Eleni is a friend of Dimitra’s, who is Liz’s cousin. Eleni doesn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Greek, but we communicate well through our love for swimming.

She swims and I swim, and on this day we swim to a tiny beachside church from a beachfront cafe we have settled into. The church is far away, but she is a strong swimmer. She tells me that she swam from Paros to Antiparos, two Greek islands which like sirens, beckon you and charm you unexpectedly. I’m not as strong a swimmer, but those that know me know I have a mermaid soul.

We swim to the tiny church called St. George’s which sits on the coast with its white stucco walls and tiny blue windows against the stark rocky coast of Paros. We talk back and forth along the way in the way with signs and words and expressions. I know what she is saying even though we don’t speak much…you must come this way, you must push yourself, you must keep trying, you must experience this beauty so you can understand.

We cannot get out on the coast by the church, she says without saying, because it is too rocky and there are sea urchins which she points to and I understand.

The tiny church of St. Georges peeks through the windblown trees on the tiny island of Paros.

It’s like being deaf and mute but with the blessing of extraordinary vision. I don’t need to go into the church to feel it’s spirit. I say a silent prayer of thanks for my new great nephew’s health and we begin the long swim back. I see Liz and her cousin far away in the turquoise waters, and we are glad they are still swimming in our direction and haven’t turned back. Liz has more determination than any friend I’ve ever had and she will reach us. Her cousin Dimitra is proof it is an ancestral trait.

Upon our arrival back at the beach, Eleni and I rest on our beach chairs when I hear her singing. I am moved to tears, but I am on the chair behind her so she cannot see me. Dimitra had told me Eleni’s husband is a famous Greek singer, but nothing has prepared me for her beautiful voice.

And in the sun and with the fatigue of swimming, my emotions are all over the place, and I am drawn back to my niece knowing she is holding her brand new baby who she loves more than life itself. In my mind, I am watching my sister looking at her grandson, and I feel her contentment and relief of knowing her daughter has made it through this milestone, older and wiser but appreciative of this gift of beautiful life she has been blessed with.

As am I.

This ladybug visited me the day my great nephew was born while I was on the island of Paros. My niece has always loved ladybugs.

On a very lofty, ethereal level, Ladybugs are generally associated with good fortune and good luck. They bring with them a sense of future prosperity. Their bright and colorful look, along with their happy-go-lucky travels, means living life without boundaries. —– Ladybug Planet website

(dedicated to Andrea, Wanda, Eleni and baby Elliot)

This is Eleni’s husband Pantelis Thalassinos, he is a famous Greek singer. His songs are incredible as you can see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMonkjavkkU&list=RDEM2EYtYioQhdRAw-MlSkRTIA

It’s All Greek to Me!

It’s Wednesday and I have made it to Athens after a long journey that started from my home in Croatia at 2 o’clock in the morning to a whirlwind of excitement of fun and food! I’ve traveled here to meet my friend Liz, who is meeting her Greek relatives for the first time.

And Liz’s relatives are just what I’ve ever heard about the Greek people: over-the-top friendly, amazingly hospitable, passionate, warm and bubbling with a wonderful sense of humor!

(Liz embraces her cousin Dimitra.)

How do I know this within the first day of meeting them?

(Dimitra and her friend discuss how much Suzan, Liz’s cousin from Texas who is also visiting, looks like her other Greek relatives.)

A Warm Welcome and Greek Hospitality

Well, to begin with Liz’s cousin Dimitra and her husband Yiannis welcome us at the busy Athens airport with flowers and hugs like we are long lost friends.

Liz had arrived on a flight a little earlier than me, and already she seems like she’s known them forever. They talk, they embrace and Liz’s face is beaming as she has wanted to meet Dimitra for many, many years. And just like that, here she is, standing next to her. Before we head to their home we stop for some local Greek wine at their friend’s wine store where we are greeted with more hugs and more strangers that are suddenly our friends.

And we are learning our first Greek words from Dimitra, one of which is an expressive word which we will hear quite often throughout our trip, and one we will have fun hurling at anything or anyone that gets in our way on our week long journey throughout this incredible country. So watch out all you “malakas” out there!!

Home Sweet Home

Next we zip off to the summer home of Dimitra and Yiannis where a giant dish of Dimitra’s homemade moussaka, her delicious Greek meatballs, two different types salads fill the table along with fresh feta cheese, olives, tasiki and bread. What a feast!

The meatballs are the lightest meatballs I’ve ever eaten and some of the best, but don’t tell my Italian relatives. These are like puffy airy fried meatballs full of spices that I can’t name and vegetables I love. And they disappear quickly. Oh, and the moussaka! It’s amazing! The olives! the wine! I eat and eat but never feel uncomfortably stuffed.

Dimitra’s husband Yiannis, a retired ship’s captain, pours us ouzo which turns from clear to cloudy with a little bit of ice and water. (That’s how you can tell if it’s authentic, he tells us). He tells us stories of his many years as the captain on a giant cargo ship traveling all over the world, and Dimitra talks of her family that is related to Liz and how she met them at a port stop in New Orleans many years ago. We are fascinated.

The conversations, the mixture of food, ouzo and wine along with the fatigue from traveling puts us in a lovely stupor. So when Yiannis and Dimitra tell us it is time for us to take a nap at 5 o’clock, so we can go out later in typical Greek fashion, who were we to object?

Liz said she didn’t know how she was going to fall asleep with all the excitement and promptly fell asleep. I soon followed. Dimitra woke us up around 7 or 8, made us some strong Greek coffee, and we walked to the Raffina beachfront from her home.

As we begin our walk Yiannis tells us he will meet us at a beachfront cafe with the car so we can just drive home later. The beachfront is about 20 minutes away from their home. We begin our walk and notice a familiar car go by. A window rolls down, and it’s Yiannis checking on us. Are we okay? he says with his thick Greek accent. We travel another 4 minutes and he’s back again. Are we okay? He says again. We’re fine, we laugh. Another few minutes and there he is again. We realize he’s just being silly, and we all laugh some more.

A Moveable Feast

The evening air is refreshing and we arrive at a outdoor restaurant invigorated at 9:45 pm and ready for ….our next meal? Surely we weren’t going to eat again? Just a little snack, Dimitra says. Sardines, fish, calamari, salad and homemade French fries….and one of my favorites, tzatziki. It’s a cool dip with fresh Greek yogurt, cucumber and garlic and served with a delicious crusty bread. The table fills up again and we are having another Greek feast, and I haven’t even been in the country for 8 hours.

Soon it is 11 pm and people are still arriving at the restaurant to eat.

I thought Italians talked with their hands, which is one trait I’ve definitely inherited from my Italian ancestors. But these beautifully vibrant people talk with every part of their being. Their hands, their arms, their eyes, their eyebrows… they are full of positive energy, and Dimitra is the queen of this energy! It’s my first night here and already I’m in love with this country and it’s culture.

Another wonderful feast with Dimitra and Yiannis!

Onward to the Island of Paros

Early the next morning we leave with Dimitra and Liz’s cousin on a giant ferry to the island of Paros, one of the lesser known islands to American tourists like me.

Dimitra and Yiannis at the ferry dock as we embark on our voyage to Paros.

The sea captains of these 100-meter ferries that go from island to island maneuver them like go-carts. It’s incredibly impressive to see two of these ships next to one another synchronize their maneuvers and arrive at the port within minutes of one another, tie off and drop off their passengers. Then boom, they are back out in the Aegean to pick up another batch of dumbstruck tourists. We gawk at the turquoise blue water as we arrive and are shuffled down below to pick up our luggage.

We stumble off the ferry to a bustling scene of the busy seaport on Paros.

Life is good.

But it gets even better.

Stay tuned.

Dimitra and Liz relax during an evening in Paros.

The Journey back ….it’s the little things

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Mike and I are a little jet lagged from our return back to Pula from the USA, but ready to be out on the water.

Just returned from a day sailing trip to Premantura with Mike. The day has been cool and sunny but an unexpected rainstorm has us tucked inside our new boat Rita.

We just got back to Croatia last Friday night from New Orleans, dropped off all but one of our suitcases and hightailed it to our favorite beachfront restaurant called Skužas. We ordered two giant brancines (sea bass) and some blitva (Swiss chard.) We were very, very tired, but feeling very satisfied with one of our favorite Pula dinners. It was topped off with the mandatory after-dinner rakija (strong brandy) from our waiter. It was blissful after a long journey, and all doubts from the previous day travels dissipated with the “dobradosli” (welcome) from the restaurant owner, who works out at the gym with Mike.

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But the next day was difficult for me. Jet lag and an overwhelming sense of everything I had left behind albeit temporarily brought a sense of loss and sadness. That accompanied with a suitcase misplaced by the airline brought doubt that maybe we should not have left for another year. The suitcase that was lost held a few very important things: my year’s worth of prescription medications, my favorite fluffy robe, a security blanket of sorts for my middle-aged cold-natured self, and some homemade pepper jelly from my mom. I had a serious sinus headache and guess where my allergy meds were?

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My dear mom’s spicy pepper jelly. 

My oldest daughter scolded me via FaceTime about how you should never pack your meds in anything but a carryon, but I was afraid of going through security looking like a walking pharmacy with all the Pepto Bismol, Sudafed, Alleve, Tylenol and prescription meds I had packed. I had found some of these things are hard to come by in Croatia.

So I brought a year’s worth.

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 I’m going to miss these two, my eldest Sarah and husband Jonathan, especially since they now have a cheese grater.

I also had something else in this suitcase. About 35 packets of Hidden Valley Ranch dip.

Okay, you can say it. That’s a little weird.

Maybe.

But in the expat community that lives in Istria, I had had a request for this particular item. One of the many kind people I had met in the expat group was a lady who was originally from Florida, had moved to Perth, then had met and married a Croatian in Australia and had moved to Istria.

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If you look in the bottom center of this picture, you’ll see the Ranch dip fest going on an an expat event in Rovinj.

She had somehow managed to do what most marketing experts can only dream of.

She had brought a tray of colorful vegetables to an expat event that included a large bowl of ranch dip she had made. The dip combined with the fresh Croatian vegetables were an instant hit, and the rest was history. She kept bringing the dish to more expat events and everyone had become hooked on its creamy, white spiced goodness.

But time was ticking by and her Ranch reserves were depleting. And there I was. Waiting in the wings. In the US with all the ranch dip a person could dream of. I decided I was going to be a hero and packed enough ranch dip in my suitcase to feed a small vegetarian army.

In the suitcase that was now missing.

Ok, I could live without the meds. And maybe I could live without the fuzzy robe, too, but the feeling that I was going to let everyone down was truly disappointing. And I had a really bad sinus headache.

So I called my youngest daughter and boo-hooed to her a little. Maybe I shouldn’t have left her and my sweet puppy, my mom, my sisters, my nieces, my family and my dear friends that I love so much, I said. “But mom, you’re in Croatia,” she said incredulously, “you love it there. You can travel all around Europe.” I could hear it in her voice, “have you lost your freaking mind?” Možda. (Maybe).

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I already miss my youngest daughter Marina and husband Patrick so much.

Did I tell you what a wimp I am when I don’t feel good?

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I miss Madelyn in the middle, too. And of course, who could forget sweet Ranger.

So I woke up this morning to our apartment doors opening and closing and the sound of a large suitcase being wheeled into our apartment. I yawned and reached for my nonexistent fuzzy robe….Could it be?

I jumped out of bed and there it was…my robe, my medicine, and a huge box of Junior Mints! (Oh, I forgot about packing those. Score!)

IMG_1550And yes, YES! A really large quantity of ranch dip!

Apparently the ranch dip must have seemed suspicious as it was my only suitcase that had been searched by TSA. Of course, it couldn’t have been the pharmaceuticals.

I texted my daughter immediately. But it was only 1 am in New Orleans. I think she was probably asleep. But she knows how much the fluffy robe means. I heard from her later in the day.

Anyway, so today was a better day. My sinus headache is gone. Thanks, Sudafed. My jet lag is receding. The sun is out and warming up the beautiful water that mesmerizes me daily.fullsizeoutput_60e8

Traveling can be harrowing sometimes. Things you hold dear can slip away in an instant. Things that make leaving home more comfortable can be lost forever.  The loss can make you appreciate “the little things” more or realize that you have to suck it up sometimes. And you can’t always be a hero.

But at least I will be this time. 😉

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Reaching the Matterhorn

Sitting in a little Art Deco cafe in Zürich, Switzerland called Grand Cafe Odeon. It reminds me so much of a place in Prague that I was lucky enough to spend time in 2009 when my eldest Sarah was studying abroad. I’m drinking a cappuccino, thinking of getting some champagne like the Swiss couple next to me and listening to the ubiquitous jazz that is so well loved in Europe. It’s Sunday, Feb. 10, and I’m reminiscing about the week I just spent here in Switzerland. Europe is such a visual treat with such a classic, unique style from centuries past, and Switzerland is no exception.

Mike stayed back in Pula working on his boat, and my awesome friend Liz met me here in Zürich to do a whirlwind tour of this beautiful country. She had to leave yesterday to get back to work, so I spent it wandering around the city window shopping and absorbing the Swiss character of the buildings and churches including the Grossmünster (I have to admit I love that word.)

The blue and white tram passes through the streets and in front of the cafe. It’s Sunday and pedestrians fill the streets, some tourists, some locals, all immersed in the magical atmosphere that is Zürich. Zürich seems to be the grandest of the cities we have visited here, but Lucerne, Bern, Chur and the picture perfect Zermatt all have captured a part of our hearts.

In third grade I had to pick something to do a social study project on, and I chose the Matterhorn. You could say it was a dream of mine at that early age, but I would have to say I really wasn’t capable of dreaming that big in the third grade. As I plastered paper maché to create the world famous summit, I just liked the idea of it. It was so high and so cold and snowy. So different from Louisiana. So flat and hot and so below sea level.

Even in college or up to my 30s I never really dreamed I would go anywhere near the Matterhorn or Switzerland (or Europe for that matter). I had visited Cancun and Cozumel as a teenager and for my honeymoon, but hadn’t felt it was in my cards to visit Europe. A two-week trip to Europe in the 90s got me close as I visited Geneva, but still the ultimate peak was out of reach.

So when Mike and I planned our adventure in Croatia, the Matterhorn was definitely on my radar. A nagging itch that I wanted to scratch. Reading about the panoramic Glacier Express train that wound its way through the Swiss Alps began to be a slight obsession but unfortunately it wasn’t really something my husband wanted to do. This situation was made worse by the fact that he had just achieved his lifelong dream of purchasing a sailboat in the Adriatic and didn’t want to leave it (for a second!). So I ran the idea by a few of my friends and even considered a solo trip, as I waited to see if one of my best friends would be able to go. My dear friend Liz jumped at the opportunity, but had work obligations and five dogs to worry about.

And then it happened, Liz got dog sitters and a miraculous week off of work. We were going to Switzerland. fullsizeoutput_5962She met me in Lucerne on a blustery snowy day, and we walked around in a dreamlike state marveling at the snow, the centuries old chapel bridge, and the poignant Lion Monument as the snow showered us. Walking in a winter wonderland was an understatement!

 

 

 

After our walk, we stopped in a beautifully little quaint cafe by the riverside and thawed off with cappuccino and reveled in the snowy beauty. We got a typical Lucerne dish, a puff pastry stuffed with pork and covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. Deliciousness!

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IMG_9527Lucerne is so charming.  The intricate metal shop signs, the buildings covered with artwork, even a painted picture on the side of a building claiming the writer Goethe had slept there adds to the romantic element of this beautiful city. Not to mention the incredible wooden bridge built in 1333 called the Kappellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) that spans part of the River Reuss.

Each section of the bridge has a beautiful triangular masterpiece (originally there were 158 of the paintings) which depict the history of Lucerne as you cross the bridge. The walk across the bridge must have been incredibly entertaining for the people of that time, especially since books were a rarity and picture books even rarer.

 

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One of the many painted buildings in the beautiful Swiss city of Lucerne.

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The Kappellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) built originally in 1333 had 158 triangular paintings lining the bridge.

 

 

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Clocks rule the country of Switzerland and we seriously wandered how a country could support so many luxury watch stores. I mean, how many watches do these people need? There was one on every street corner and then some. And it’s not like there wasn’t a clock tower every where you turned, gonging out the hour in full measure. These watch stores were not hawking your cheap Timex watches either: Rolex, Gübelin, Bucherer, crazy expensive watches.

 

The next stop was Bern, a city that was unique and charming in its own right with no lack of clock towers and beautiful scenery! A blue green river swings around the city in a big “u” shape, and we were surprised to find that Bern actually has a population of bears that live in a open zoo on the outskirts of the city. We think it’s possible that Bern could mean bear, but we still aren’t sure.

Bern also had a beautiful astronomical clock that has a few mechanical components that work as the hours strike (yes, more clocks, folks. surprise, surprise!). A little mechanical king waves his wand and a small rooster flaps his wings and that’s about it, but the clock is incredible nonetheless. We went by a few times right on the hour to watch it work its magic.

Liz and I also climbed the tower of the cathedral in Bern and looked out over the city and then met some Americans from Colorado at the top. Were they as impressed with the snowy wonderland of Switzerland as us southerners from Louisiana as we gushed on and on about the snow-capped mountains? They never answered, but they took our picture, and they looked pretty enamored by the surroundings as well.

 

A Golden Prison

One of our many memorable moments was a conversation we had with our hotel receptionist Magdalena who happened to be Serbian (although born in Switzerland) and a Swiss resident for 30 years. She was adorable and was so tall she towered over us like a lot of Serbians and Croatians do. As we told her we were headed to Zermatt she said she had never been there.

Really? We were shocked! But it’s only an hour and a half away by train, we said! A really comfortable train, no less!  She said some people referred to Bern and Switzerland in general, as a golden prison of sorts, that it is so nice that residents never want to leave their cities. I definitely get that. It’s a pretty remarkable place.

Reaching the Summit

Our last city before we returned back to Zurich was of course the incredible city of Zermatt, near the beautiful Matterhorn. We took an amazing train ride called the Gornergrat Bahn, the world’s first electric cog railway, that travels up through the mountains with some of the most breathtaking mountain scenery in the world. You get several panoramic views of the Matterhorn as you climb 10,000 or so feet. A nice Austrian even told us which side to sit on and that we could open the windows to get rid of the glare. Between that ride, and the ride on the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the world’s highest 3S cableway the next day, I really felt like I had made it. I had accomplished a dream.

I was in heaven.

And of course, Liz found a dog up there, because we all know that all dogs go to heaven.

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The Tides of Our Lives

IMG_7855In case you have been wondering where my blog has been, the last six or so months have been a whirlwind and I honestly could not keep up.

September and October were festival season in Istria and while most of the tourists had gone home from our happy place in Pješčana Uvala, the days have been busy ones with constant road trips to festivals, visiting several other countries, delving into our language lessons in Croatian and my new stint teaching ESL on a very part-time basis.

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The festival in Buzet was both charming and beautiful

We also did a sailing charter out of Split mid-September and visited several islands around the area including Hvar, Brać, and Vis. And had an intensely frightening experience driving home in a bura. I’ll have a complete blog post on that later.

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Leaving Split in a burn

Also my daughter Madelyn came to visit us in the first week of October. We met her in Rome and did a whirlwind tour of Italy stopping in Bologna, Florence and Venice and came back then and went to the little idyllic Croatian towns of Rovinj and Porec and explored the area around our home with her.

 

Soon after my niece Laura stopped in for a short visit right on the end of a trip she had made to Germany, and we went to Porec and Rovinj (again) and finally enjoyed a really memorable festival centered around Prsut (prosciutto) in a little Croatian village of Tinjan.

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My niece visited us in October after a vacation in Berlin.

 

 

Good times, great times, scary times, the best of times, nowhere near the worst of times, and each visit worthy of an incredibly long blog post or more which I will start writing after I finish this one. So please stay tuned.

 

 

 

But it doesn’t end there. At the end of October Mike and I along with Carolyn met my other daughter Sarah in Dubrovnik to celebrate her 30th birthday and toured parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina then drove northward to Kotor, Montenegro, another incredible journey shared with people I love.

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Mike and Sarah in Dubrovnik as we celebrated her 30th birthday!

And then more teaching, learning and friendships blossoming and a wonderfully warm Thanksgiving with our landlord and friend as well as some American expat friends. Oh, and in between all that, a visit to the tiny Croatian village of Kringa to watch, of all things, a Saints game with an an expat and his lovely Ukrainian wife complete with jambalaya, gumbo, hush puppies and pralines.

So then it was the end of November and we had scheduled a trip to Cologne, Heidelberg and Frankfurt, Germany for the Christmas markets. Such food, Christmas cheer, and festive moments! When we returned home to Pula, we were exhausted. It was almost the end of 2018, but we knew we hadn’t even touched upon all of the things we wanted to do when we planned to move to Europe for a year.

We lived steps from the Adriatic and my husband had only sailed for two weeks out of the ten months we had been here. How could he as we had been traveling so much? And speaking of traveling, I still wanted to visit the Netherlands, Hungary, Finland, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Norway, Spain, Portugal, the southern part of Italy, Poland, and many other places.fullsizeoutput_5941

We will only be in Croatia for a few more days before our visa expires. We have to leave for three months, which we will do, but have decided to come back in June and reapply to stay for another full year. Mike just purchased a boat here and we will be sailing a lot more when we return next year. We will still travel a lot but not at the breakneck speed at which we did this past year, so I will only whittle away a little at my list above, much to the relief of my travel weary husband.

I’m starting to think wanderlust is an addiction, folks. One that I’ll reluctantly cop to. I think I got it from from great grandfather from Bogota, Colombia who traveled all over the world via ships, and my daughter Sarah may have inherited it from me. Možda! (that means “maybe” in Croatian.)

After our three month stint in the USA, I will to continue to teach ESL and enjoy the beautiful country of Croatia. And put a little more effort into my blog, by catching up on the adventures of the last few months. It will be a pleasure to look back on those experiences with the savory warmth of time and not feel like I have to quickly rehash the experiences as they occur.

So please stay tuned.

Is the time right for you?

So how am I feeling about another year away from home? Honestly, it breaks my heart. I have hesitated telling people for fear they would be upset with me. My mom, my kids, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my friends, my aunts and uncles, are all so far away. My DOG! Omg, I want to cry just thinking of seeing him for three months and then leaving him again. He is now my daughter’s dog, and her and my son-in-law love him as much as we do. But how do I leave everything and everyone I love (except my husband and friends here, of course!) for another year. I think of people who have to do so due to circumstances they cannot control like soldiers going off to war and my heart hurts for them.

But sometimes you know that the time is ripe to do something. That it’s something you need to do. Have to do. A goal you put off your entire life because you didn’t have the means, had too many responsibilities, thought impossible, thought you didn’t deserve it…but I’m here to say, the time is now.

At least it is for me.

For you maybe, too.

Možda.

As we approach the autumn of our lives, we have to assess and decide where we invest our fleeting time and energy. For some it is their grandchildren, others a new career that inspires them or still others, a combination of the two. Some may need to care for an aging loved one or child that still hasn’t found their way in the world. Some may search for a new relationship that replaces the emptiness or heartache of one they left behind. And for others, it is visiting places that they have always wanted to see and embracing a new culture whole heartedly.

Each of us is on our own individual journey and one shouldn’t be seen as more important or “better” than others. The one that completes us, that nurtures our souls and makes our lives feel complete is the one we should move toward. And the journey will change with the tides of our lives. For example, if my mom got ill or my children needed me, I would drop everything without a moment’s hesitation because that is where I would need to be at that time in the depths of my heart, the echoes of my soul.

That said, I refuse to mark time out of habit and stay in a comfortable setting for fear of accomplishing my dreams, and neither should you.

Our bodies are not permanently strong and healthy, nor is the possibility of attaining our dreams a never ending prospect. And the winter of your years will be warmer if you have the fuel of a life well-lived and experiences that nourish your soul to reflect upon as you move towards your final days. It sounds a little morbid, but it’s true.

We only have so much time here on earth as people. (Unless, of course, you believe in reincarnation, but then you could come back as a dog or something.)

Seriously though, Dream big, love hard and make the most of these fleeting moments.

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If the time is right for you.

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