“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
If there’s anything we’ve learned from mostly living on the road these past 15 months, it’s that travel can be disorienting, but in a lovely sort of way.
One week ago, we left our winter wonderland ‘home’ in Oberammergau, Germany, to embark on an adventure in the Balkans. To get there, we rode a lively, overnight bus that whisked us through four countries in 14 hours: Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and finally, Croatia.
We bid farewell to a monochromatic winter palette that had been embellished with graceful snowflakes on window panes, craggy mountains dusted with sugar-like snowfalls, and elaborately-frescoed buildings. In exchange, we were greeted by palm trees, the sparkling waters of the Adriatic, and the buff-colored limestone cobblestones and buildings that are ubiquitous in Croatia.
We’d reserved a little apartment for our first two nights in Trogir, but beyond that, we didn’t know where we’d be staying. Our first night in town, warmed by a vintage blanket that bore a tag ‘Made in Yugoslavia,’ we pondered our strategy for finding an apartment. We also tried to remember discussions from our high school current events classes that touched upon the Balkans’ war-time chapters, and how Yugoslavia eventually fragmented into six countries. In a town as peaceful as Trogir is today, it was hard to imagine Croatia as a battle zone just two decades earlier.
As we pounded the cobbled lanes the next morning, we were surprised to find that Trogir, a city of approximately 13,000 people, was largely a ghost town during the winter months. Hotels, restaurants, and private rooms, known locally as sobe, were shuttered. Though we were growing increasingly nervous that we wouldn’t find a suitable place to stay, we were thrilled by the sight of citrus and kiwi plants, cheery daffodils, and the silhouettes of palm trees on shuttered buildings.
We stopped for a cappuccino at the cheery Café Padre, and soaked up the Croatian sun, while watching a group of school girls chase each other around a Corinthian-style column, topped with the red, white, and blue Croatian flag. At the seaside, we met a Croatian teacher, originally from Bosnia, who tried to help us find us a place to stay. In our own versions of German, we conversed, but she swiftly had to return to school since her lunch break was drawing to a close. As we parted ways, she taught us a new Croatian phrase, bok, or ‘goodbye’.
As we departed our seaside seating, we discovered the power of word-of-mouth advertising. A seamstress (with a fluffy dog outside her door that drew me in to her corner shop), referred us to nail salon owners with an unavailable apartment, who in turn handed us off to a pizzeria owner with vacant apartments. And so it was that we found our home away from home – a charming studio apartment above the Pizzeria Mirkec – a spot guaranteed to tempt our tastebuds at every turn.
As we headed back to our temporary hotel to pack our bags, we passed under a clothesline traversing a classic courtyard that seemed almost in ruins. We then glimpsed a column engraved in Latin, a grandmother tending to a dusty carpet in her open window, a handsome fortress tower, and a man gently calling a tabby cat to his green doorway. Lost, yet pleasantly disoriented, I thought to myself, I think I am going to like it here in Trogir. Let the adventure begin.
Have you visited Croatia or other spots on the scenic Dalmatian Coast? If so, I’d love it if you shared any special travel anecdotes. Which destinations or experiences in the Balkans are you eager to recommend?
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.