RETURN TO CROATIA – PART ONE
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook, knows just how excited I was for my trip back to Croatia. Miloš and I had been planning it since March, and at the time, it seemed so far away. When I left his ship on April 1st in Basel, Switzerland, we were looking at four months until the next time we saw each other. But fortunately, time does fly, and it wasn’t long before August 1st had almost arrived. And due to some unpleasant stress a few weeks before the trip, we were both even more excited for it to just get here already!
My flight left Philly the afternoon of August 1st, with a four hour layover scheduled in Frankfurt the next day before landing in Zagreb, Croatia. I planned to do all kinds of errands and other stuff that departure day, but who was I kidding? My mom drove me to the airport in the afternoon with my one small suitcase and my backpack. (Just call me Jen the Master Suitcase Packer!) This time on the plane, I wasn’t lucky enough to have the two seats to myself like on my return trip from Europe earlier in the year. In fact, I sat next to a very tall German man. Seriously tall. I felt bad for the guy having to sit for so long in that cramped space. He honestly had no room, but he was super nice and put my suitcase up in the overhead quite effortlessly. (I would have been able to do it, but not so easily.)
The flight was uneventful and I tried to sleep a bit. Honestly, it’s all a bit of a blur to me. Before I knew it, I was in Frankfurt, seeking out my next gate after going through security. Remember how I was always meeting new friends during my train travels in Europe earlier this year? Well, it can also happen in airports! I was sitting two seats down from a girl speaking English on the phone (with an American accent), who also happened to be studying a musical score. After she was done on the phone, I asked her which opera she was studying. It was ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ by Benjamin Britten. I had been in a scene from this opera back in grad school – it’s very difficult. She was actually learning the same role that I had sung. So we began our conversations, and I became friends with Ivana! Her dad is actually Croatian, and she was headed there to visit family. We hung out the rest of the layover, waiting for the plane to leave, just chit-chatting.
That second flight was actually pretty short and I was soon in Zagreb, which was a much smaller airport than I anticipated. I immediately called Miloš, and he gave me the rest of the details as to where to find his sister and the shuttle bus that would take us to Rijeka. (She is a flight attendant and was also arriving the same day as me.) The bus ride was about two and a half hours to Rijeka, where Miloš’ mom picked us up and took us that final stretch to Crikvenica. It was so strange to be seeing that same road and sea side again after all this time had gone by. On the one hand, it felt like it had just happened, but on the other hand, it felt like ages ago.
Honestly, those few hours leading up to getting there were a bit surreal. Actually, that whole first day in Croatia felt surreal. I couldn’t believe I was actually finally there – after so long! Once we got to his grandmother’s apartment, out came Miloš to greet us. The first thing he did was bring me straight to his room to show me the presents he got me…… He got me Lord of the Rings Legos!!!!!!! 😀 Seriously, many of you know my obsession with all things Lord of the Rings, but how many of you know that I was a total Lego nerd almost all my life? Miloš actually didn’t know about my “Lego thing” either, but how perfectly it worked out! He even bought a special set of random Lego characters because it had Legolas in it, and he knows my fondness for Orlando Bloom. 🙂 Surprisingly, that set also had Locutus of Borg in it too!!! (Jean Luc’s Borg name in Star Trek TNG!) This was an awesome surprise for both of us, as we are both huge fans of Star Trek TNG. (One of the best shows on TV ever, no question, hands down!) And sticking with the sci-fi theme, he also got me some Star Wars key chains: Yoda and Vader. And all the presents were topped off with an ice cold bottle of Coke! 🙂 🙂 🙂 Just so sweet, awesome, and adorable!
I had met Miloš’ mom back in March (who is a lovely woman), but this was my first time meeting his grandmother. She was very nice, but she speaks no English, so I really wasn’t able to communicate much with her. Within minutes, we were sitting at the dining room table, and I was trying some new foods. The soup was actually really similar to the dumpling soup that my dad’s family makes, only the dumplings were smaller and firmer. However, I opted not to try out the neck meat that was in the other bowl. I’m all for trying new things, but for that one I just couldn’t muster up the courage. Then there was a baked cheese dish – imagine a strudel type of dish – only thicker and more savory as opposed to sweet. But it was made with the phyllo type dough you use when making strudel. It was really good. Then we also had lasagna – again, very good.
Thanks to the caffeine from the Coke (and my natural boundless energy! 😉 ), I wasn’t really feeling tired at all. We got into our bathing suits, hopped on Miloš’ scooter, and we were off! First we went to the stand where his brother was working to borrow his computer so I could report my safe arrival on Facebook, as I knew my family and friends wanted to be sure I had gotten there safely. Then we headed all the way out to the peninsula (the one named for the snakes) to enjoy some time together.
Ever since my trip in March, Miloš had been telling me about this amazing calamari at this place his friend’s dad owns. But back in March, it was still closed for the season. So as the sun started sinking ever lower, we headed back into town for some calamari. We ordered fried calamari and grilled calamari – and Coke! It was great to get the Coke in the glass bottles – something I would enjoy for the rest of the trip. (Although I didn’t enjoy how much the Coke cost over there! And no free refills!) I’m a big fan of fried calamari, but I had never tried it grilled. I’ll be honest – not the biggest fan. Don’t get me wrong, the flavor was excellent. I just couldn’t deal with the texture of it when grilled. But at least I tried! I let Miloš have the rest of the grilled platter, and I finished the fried one.
After our food stop, we headed back to the apartment to get showered and ready to head out for a night on the town! I can’t express just how different his town felt during the busy summer season vs. the emptiness I witnessed back in March. It was like night and day. Everywhere you looked, it was bustling with hordes of people. We headed over to one of his regular bars and hung out for a while with a group of his friends. He ordered a special drink that we shared (it was huge and strong, and I’m a bit of a light-weight…) However, everyone was speaking Croatian, so I wasn’t really able to get involved in the conversation. After awhile, we headed to one of his other regular spots – the bar that his friend runs. We spent quite awhile there. I had a bunch of these yummy blueberry shots. (The fruitier and girl-ier the drink, the more I like it! haha!)
We stayed out rather late that night, outlasting most of the crowds in town. And with the full moon shining on the sea, it was a very lovely night indeed. It still felt a bit surreal to be together again, but in the most wonderful way possible. Eventually we headed back to the apartment to get a little bit of sleep, as we had a big travel day ahead of us.
….to be continued…
Next up – our adventures continue with a very scenic and curvy road to the ancient city of Zadar. The sea, excellent food, a 3,000 year old city, amazing weather – what more could you ask for! Come along for the journey!