Taming Firenze: Croatia

“Split: Paradise city where the sea is blue and the girls are pretty”

The above quote was written on the wall of Hostel En Route, welcoming us to the beautiful coastal country.

Croatia was a refreshing taste of home. The familiar salty ocean air and the delicious taste of seafood brought me back to summers on the beach and on the bay. True, there was no Old Bay on our tables, but Croatian seafood does just well without the peppery, Chesapeake Bay staple.

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The first activity on our itinerary was a whitewater rafting trip down the Cetina River. The crystal clear water and the lush, emerald green forest offered us escape from the cobblestone and cement prison that is our Tuscan home.

We alternated between calm, peaceful waters and flowing, hissing rapids (I can’t exactly say “roaring rapids” because we were only beginners rafting through not-very-dangerous currents). Our guide, a member of Croatia’s National Rafting team, coached us through the staggering rocks and the low-hanging tree branches. As a team, we paddled our way through the beautiful forest toward a traditional Croatian dinner.

As we conquered our final bout of rapids, our guide urged us to lift our paddles and close our eyes. Reluctantly, we complied.

With my eyes closed, I waited for the rocky waters to bounce, bob and shake the yellow raft. The rapids cradled us – held us close and waltzed us quickly down the river. When the waters slowed again, we opened our eyes and breathed deep.

Not only did we whitewater raft in the most beautiful river in Croatia, but we whitewater rafted in the most beautiful river in Croatia with our eyes closed.

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Traditional Croatian trout dinner: before and after

The next day we embarked on a cruise to the island of Brač. The cruise, though a bit cold before the sun came out, was the best way to see Croatia. Hugging the coast, we saw the port fade in the distance, along with the mountains and the peach-pink houses stacked on top of each other.

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My second seafood meal of the weekend, served to me on the boat.

The boat brought us to the beautiful island of Brač, where we pretended it was summer and enjoyed the beach for a few hours.

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I didn’t get much time to explore Split itself, but on the way to the port and on the way to dinner, I managed to see a bit of the beautiful city.

I learned from my friend Nikki who went on the walking tour of Split that much of the city and its culture comes from Venice, thus explaining the Venetian-style architecture and narrow, winding streets. I also saw a bit of Diocletian’s Palace, a beautiful palace where parts of Game of Thrones were filmed.

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For dinner, we went to a literal hole-in-the-wall restaurant that our student adviser, Andy, recommended to us.

This tiny restaurant with about four employees and 15 seats does not take reservations and does not have a closing time. People typically line up early and hope the kitchen doesn’t run out of food by the time they are seated.

Our group of six waited about 45 minutes to be seated. In that time, employees walked outside to cross about 4 entrees off their hand-written menu, signifying that they had run out of the ingredients for those meals for the day.

A woman sitting at a table behind us asked the cook which menu item he liked best. He replied with something along the lines of “Close your eyes and pick something because everything is good. Our food here is all fresh because we buy for the day and we close when we run out. You can’t go wrong here.”

And he was right. My sea bass dinner (the third fish of my weekend) was perhaps the best fish I have ever had in my life, which is saying something because I have been raised on good seafood.

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My third fish dinner: before and after

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On our third and final day, we bused to Krka Waterfalls, a national park about an hour away from Split, and spent a couple hours in the freezing water beneath the falls.

Once in the park, we walked about 20 minutes on a small foot-bridge above the clear water. We walked through the green forest, taking in our last bit of fresh air before boarding a bus and heading back to Florence.

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With all the beauty and familiarity of Croatia aside, I am reminded of our rafting guide’s instructions to close our eyes and let feel the rapids take over. This long and rocky semester has been a jolting mix of rough water and calm water, of murky water and clear water, of hot water and cold water. It has been an untamable mess of new experiences – both good and bad.

At the end of the day, the best advice I can receive is just to close my eyes and feel the dance of the world turning beneath my feet. If I listen now, I can hear the music softening. My time here is humming to a close, and all I can do now is let the water carry me home.

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