By Vanessa Fleming, SummerSalt Yoga teacher
I left Vis on 9 July feeling nostalgic, bittersweet, and excited. After a wonderful teaching and learning experience with 4 different groups of bright and shining yogis, I was happy for the experiences we all shared and ready to go exploring.
Not 15 minutes after my arrival in split, I sat down for a coffee and a bite when I hear my name. I turn and am surprised by Hannah, Vicky, Nadin, and Lauren. All from the retreat. What a perfect moment to culminate the feelings of next steps.
I sit with them for just a bit before I have to be on my way to catch a bus to Zadar, where I was meeting Andy for our Croatian road trip adventure.
On the bus, I went, and I got to Zadar around 7 pm and headed straight to meet Andy at the Sea Organ, an enchanting pier with sounds like an organ (hence the name!) as water passes underneath, all with a rich sunset as the backdrop. We sat with magical sounds beneath us as the sun set in front of us, soaking up every sparkling light off of the waters.
After the sunset, we grabbed a bite to eat before we headed out onto the road at, as we had a long drive to Rovinj ahead of us. We got on the road right around 10:30 pm.
We didn’t realize how long of a ride it would be.
The GPS put our arrival time at 2:50 am. Andy took the first shift driving while I took a nap in the back seat so that we both could be alert. I took over driving at 12:40. I could make it 2 hours, with the assistance of a late-night cappuccino and the AC blasting in my face.
Around 2:45 am and after some windy roads and lots of darkness, I approach what I thought was a toll booth. Nope, it was border control. I was confused, but I blamed it on the lack of sleep and unfamiliarity of how these countries intertwined. I knew that to go to Dubrovnik, you have to cross over the border to Bosnia, so maybe up north was the same case?
It’s not the case.
We were in Slovenia. With a GPS saying in French, “Vous etes arrivez!” and looking around a pitch-black road with nothing around, we were both like…um…how did this happen?
So we ditched the car’s GPS and recharged our phones, using Google Maps as a much more reliable source. We had come this far, and we were determined to make it to Rovinj, no matter the time. Sleeping in the car in this unfamiliar town in Slovenia didn’t really seem like the smartest option either, so on we drove and backtracked to Rovinj…
As we approached a toll booth, we caught the attendant taking a little cat nap. We giggled and tried to snap a photo. He didn’t like that so much. He yelled at us in maybe Croatian / maybe Slovenian, and we just shyly nodded, apologized, and went on.
We pulled up to our stay at 4:47 am. The sun was about to come up and we had both been awake for about 23 hours at this point. We crawl into bed just at 5 am, and real talk…I’ve never gone to bed at 5 am completely sober before in my life. It was strange but I was so happy to place my head on that pillow.
We re-emerged into the waking life around 11:30 am, and headed into the town of Rovinj.
Rovinj is a cute seaside town with a largely Italian influence. The stone streets and colorful buildings along the infamous Croatian turquoise waters is the epitome of “Pamalo,” or taking it easy. We had some pizza and just cruised around by foot, soaking it all in. We popped in to a couple of local shops where some of the shop owners only spoke Croatian and Italian. We stopped at a little cafe for something to drink and to chill out for a bit, where we encountered the cutest family. A mother and her sister, two little boys. The little boys were about 5 and 2, with so much personality. We were just hysterically laughing at these two as they encountered a cat, where they screamed “Gattttoooooo!” with joy that only a child can bring.
The people are so friendly, and the sunset…the sunset is unlike any other I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many places.) Shades of purple and bright blue, orange, and pink, all while seagulls were dancing and gliding above the crystal blue waters. I sat and just let myself soak it up as I reveled in the magical beauty of it all.
The next morning, we headed to Bale, a cute little village about 20 minutes outside of Rovinj. It’s so tiny, but ever so charming. Hills and fields all around a very tiny little town. I saw about 5 people in the whole village, including the tourists. Afterwards, I looked up its population — around 1100 people total. We had some breakfast, went to an olive oil tasting, basked again in charm…
And off we went to Plitvice Lakes. Once again, another journey! 5 hours this time, as we headed inland. Fortunately, we had light this time, unlike our journey up to Rovinj. We cruised through picturesque villages along the way, but before heading inland we drove along the coast for a bit. In the States, we have the Pacific Coast Highway or the PCH. It’s a destiny for many to cruise the coast via the PCH because of its stunning nature. Truth be told…the PCH has absolutely nothing in comparison the coastal views of Croatia. Nothing. I can’t even describe, but it’s borderline Stendhal Syndrome inducing. (Stendhal Syndrome can be summarized as the extreme fascination with art or beautiful surroundings, to the point of feeling a bit crazy.)
We got to the lakes around 330, took a bit of a hike, and ended up surrounded by a dozen waterfalls. For 2 hours, we strolled through the lakes, and the waterfalls were magnificent and loud, and I found myself slowly drifting into a walking meditation. The loudness allowed me to go on an internal journey, to just let the thoughts come as they were. To let myself breathe and be, as I continued my constant release towards the willing. The richness of the colors around, the sounds of the water crashing, all in pools of clear waters. There is no fishing or swimming in these lakes to help maintain its pristine quality. I sat in awe of what I had taken in over the last 48 hours…the sea organ, Rovinj, the adorable town, and now I’m in these waterfalls…
But the day didn’t stop there. We still had to get to Dubrovnik. So after a little boat mishap (Andy and I have those, it seems), where we boarded to the wrong direction, we got right and headed down south.
We were lucky enough to have more time along the coastal drive, and we stopped for a plate of mussels in yet another impossibly cute place called Skradin (just outside of Sibenik). We couldn’t stay long though, as we had to get going…
And we arrived in Dubrovnik at about 2 am. I had sacrificed so much sleep at this point, but it was okay. I was being filled with beauty, energy, and being with Andy was so good. She’s very lighthearted and fun, which made the time in the car not only bearable but enjoyable. We jammed out to Taylor Swift (yep, even me), and just cruised this magnificent country.
And if all that wasn’t enough, I walked up to Dubrovnik’s old town the next morning for what was possibly the most breathtaking view. I didn’t even notice the tons of crowds…they didn’t matter. I felt like I had time-warped to the 15th century, and I was awestruck by the view of the walls and the sea and the orange-colored roofs. The energy in Dubrovnik is so freeing…even through the heat and the crowds. We sat at a church, on the steps, listening to a jazz band and I felt whisked away to another world completely. Eventually, the heat got to us so we went for a swim down at the cliffs, and just…sat.
As the sun set that evening, we couldn’t see it dip behind the skyline, but just could just see the buildings all changing colors. The vast experiences I had over those days were coming to an end, and with that final sunset, I knew…
My feelings had changed and grown. What was merely a crush had blossomed. I was now in love with Croatia.