I’ve been half way around the world and back since my last blog post.
And I’m a different person.
Oh, not actually a different person. I’m still a 5-foot-10, fitness-obsessed, God-fearing native Minnesotan whose current address is Illinois.
But I’m different.
“In a strange place, you become more fully evident,” writes author Andrew Solomon in Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change. Solomon describes, as summarized by editor Pilar Guzman in a recent issue of Condé Nast Traveler, “how immersing yourself in a foreign environment heightens an awareness of your own otherness — not just as a stranger in a strange land, but who you really are at home too.”
That, in a sentence, is the plot summary of this blog, Minnesota Transplant. I was born in Minnesota and grew up there. I will always be a Minnesotan, even when I live in another state and visit another country. But living in another state and visiting another country informs my sense of self. Every day, every journey, I learn who I am and who I am not.
This is the gift of traveling — learning not only about another place, a different culture, other people, but also about ourselves. Sometimes we learn how great we are. But often we learn how small.
Seeing as it’s Travel Tuesday here at Minnesota Transplant, let me tell you all about my trip. Or at least a part of it. I’ll save some bits and pieces for another Tuesday (or two or three).
In June, my Beloved, my stepchildren and I enjoyed an epic, once-in-a-lifetime type of trip to Europe. We visited Dubrovnik and spent some time in Barcelona, but we lived in Omiš (that caron above the s (the little v symbol) renders Omiš pronounced as oh-mish, not oh-miss).
It’s a little town of about 15,000 in Croatia on the Adriatic Sea.
Croatia? You look confused. Who goes to Croatia?
Croatia, a mostly coastal country once a part of Yugoslavia and embroiled in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, was never on my bucket list either, but as is the case with many things in life, it’s who you know that gets you were you go. My Beloved knows a guy whose parents grew up there, and the guy owns property there he willing opens up to special people. We, apparently, are special.
Never turn down an offer for a free place to stay, especially when that place is on a beach.
A “beach” to a native Minnesotan is a different thing than it is to anyone who lives near an ocean. A beach in Minnesota is sandy if you’re lucky. If the water is not muddy, it’s probably green and hopefully free of weeds and leaches. And to be honest, the sand is often just a stretch of land between the road and a good place to fish.
A beach in Croatia looks like this:
There is this impossibly clear, frequently calm aquamarine water against a backdrop of craggy mountains.
Get yourself up the mountain, and you are stunned by vistas like this:
Wikipedia describes the Omiš Riviera as a place that “stretches for 12 miles along a coast of exceptional beauty, with many perfect pebble, sandy beaches, bays, steep cliffs and a crystal clear sea.” Yes. Yes. And yes.
What we did right — and it was only by the wisdom of the guy my Beloved knows — was to stay in Omiš, a small, tourist-friendly town with several public beaches, lots of interesting places to eat and affordable accommodations (even for travelers who don’t know a guy) where visitors can walk almost everywhere. We didn’t stay in a hotel, we lived in a condo. In June (before the busy season of July-August) Omiš felt like an undiscovered jewel we had all to ourselves.
We’d wake up in the morning (the sun officially rises at 5:13 a.m. in Omiš in June but it’s light long before then) and enjoy a coffee from the coffee shop and a pastry from the bakery. Yes, it was two stops, but only steps apart. The pastries were impeccably fresh but enormous; the coffee was fresh, too, but never big enough (I live in suburbia, remember, where Starbucks sizes its coffee as tall, grande and venti, which means, literally, 20, as in ounces).
Nearly everyone speaks English, they drive on the same side of the road as Americans (we rented a car) and the exchange rate was favorable. An expensive coffee was the equivalent of $1.10, so there was no guilt in ordering a second (or third) cup.
Omiš sits at the mouth of the Centina River, so when one tires of looking at the sea (no one tires of this, but the sake of transition, go with me on this), one can take a boat ride up the river and be treated to a gorge not all that dissimilar from the Wisconsin Dells. For us, Omiš was an excellent home base to do a few day trips — to Split, Trogir, Makarska and Dubrovnik. I’ll share more about some of these places in future Travel Tuesday missives.
Since Croatia is on the ocean and only miles away from Italy, the food is comfortingly familiar (think seafood, pasta and wine) and exhilaratingly exotic (think whole fish, the most divine bolognese sauce and house-made apéritifs, a spritely spirit one drinks before dinner to stimulate the appetite). The ice cream in Europe in general, but definitely in Croatia, is creamy beyond measure and available everywhere. I indulged in ice cream at least once a day.
After visiting such a relaxing and magical place, I am changed. I’ve been to a lot of cosmopolitan places — London, Toyko, Sydney — but the coast of Croatia is, by far, the most breath-taking. I am awed by the natural beauty of the place, and I was seduced by the concept of living and working in such a ruggedly magnificent locale. I am more aware than ever that I grew up in a land-locked state on the plains of America.
Which leads to this conclusion: After my amazing travels last month, I am still the same. I love a good rut. I know, better than ever, that the best adventures for me are ones that are comfortable and familiar. I’m not one to sleep on the floor, eat fish for breakfast or, God forbid, pee in a trench. What I loved about Croatia was that even though I was a foreigner who didn’t speak the language and struggled to count her change, I could feel at home there.