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Zagreb, Croatia
Bled, Slovenia
Lipica, Slovenia
Trieste, Italy
Opatija, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Trogir, Croatia
Split, Croatia
Korcula, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Kotor, Montenegro

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It was Thanksgiving. My mom and I sat at the island in her kitchen on Lonely Planet’s Thorntree, soliciting routes for backpacking South America and gauging the difficulty of traversing Japan with no grasp of the language. Somehow, weeks later, we were booked on a tour of the Dalmatian Coast.

The flight

“This was an educational video,” the subtitles read. It certainly was. The difference between romantic comedies in Europe and America is that in Europe, the focus is on comedy, and in America, the focus is on romance. Also, in Europe, there is a lot more nudity, profanity, humiliation, assertion, vulnerability, and forgiveness. In America, there’s just kind of a selfish ideal. The film was called “Warum Manner nicht zuhoren und Frauen schlecht einparken,” and it guided me through the evolution of the sexes and raised (and comically answered) a number of poignant questions.  Men and women cannot see eye to eye, for example, because the male species sees in tunnel vision while the female species sees in panorama.  And in the debate of T or A–I cannot recall what the conclusion was, actually, because I took full advantage of the complimentary red wine as soon as the first beverage cart came through, but I know it was funny enough for snort-laughing.  I was a very content traveler: miraculously, I had an aisle seat and no one was seated next to me in the window to be put off by my shameful abuse of the beverage service, followed by slumped half-fetal sleeping position, possible drooling, on and off for hours.  My mom was equally content: she had the same seating arrangement on the opposite side of the cabin.  She could pray the Rosary and chew gum with no shame.  Truly, this was a sign from above, because the rest of the flight was full, and if we needed to survive two weeks together, we could not have done what we did on that airplane six inches from each other.

We landed in Vienna and were immediately greeted with the pervasive stench of stale cigarette smoke and sweat. “Europe!” I announced, and encouraged my mom to join me in reveling in the distinctly exhilarating feeling of Having Arrived. Truth be told, though, the novelty wore off and we were just perturbed about all the second-hand smoke.

We arrived in Zagreb, Croatia in early afternoon, but for our bodies, it was the middle of the night. We agreed that we should not give in to our body clocks but, rather, wander around the city in search of nothing in particular.

Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb is the capital of Croatia. Its population is 800,000, but it is said to be a “city of a million beating hearts” when workers from the villages beyond the walls commute to work. Of its buildings and landmarks, I can say that if it is within arm’s reach, it is covered in graffiti. Streetcar exteriors and streetcar interiors were equally covered in epithets, the meanings of which were unintelligible to us. We were nervous. This was the capitol of a candidate EU nation, and the first city on our tour. And it was dirty, vandalized, lawless. We did not acknowledge it until at least an hour into our walk, because we wanted so badly to get to the part of the city where young people had left walls untouched, let them retain their authenticity and purity.

That said, the city is not unattractive—it’s really quite beautiful, laid out across two hills in the central/northeast part of the country. Museums, the opera, and other historical buildings are shaded in a deep yellow, a modern homage to the Ottoman Empire that erected them. We stopped at a wine bar next to a funicular, where I had my first and last really good glass of wine—Plavac Bakovic, the father of Zinfandel, and not the cheap sweet stuff.

Cafes are as central to the young adult’s social life in Croatia as they are in France or Italy. I recently attended a five course South American dinner with wine pairings, organized by Crush Wine Shop, and my friend and I were seated at a long table with the rest of the guests, none of whom we knew. In his introduction, the host commented that Europeans have been practicing the art of conversation with strangers for thousands of years, and it’s a shame that the concept is so foreign to Americans. It’s true. My friend and I socialized effortlessly, finding commonalities between ourselves and the country club retirees to our left, the psychology professors across from us, and the chain steakhouse bartender to our right. Everyone in attendance was comfortable—otherwise, we wouldn’t be there. But I agree with the host that the concept was not particularly comfortable for most.

I bring this up not because cafes were a place where strangers came to converse with strangers. It’s just that I was really uncomfortable at cafes by myself. I wondered if parties of one just weren’t done. I suddenly appreciated that it is not only tolerated but respectable to be comfortable in the company of one’s own thoughts in the US. What am I getting at? I like that at home, I have the option.

But I digress. Cafes are colorful, ironically free of ambassadors of the corporate world and yet identifiable by rows of tables, chairs, and umbrellas loudly marked with the names Karlovacko, Union, Heineken, and, my personal favorite, Carlsberg. Men are attractive, and “Eurotrash” stereotypes of their dress do apply. Despite the summer heat, women did not wear shorts or skirts. Women typically wore “skinny jeans” (whether or not they fit the same description) with patterned tee shirts or knit tops, often accessorized with loud metallic jewelry or purses. University students fill cafes all day, drinking coffee, tea, beer, and a mixture of cheap white wine and water. (It might as well be dishwater.) I stood out for a number of reasons at cafes during our trip, most noticeably for my often bare shins and blond hair.

Zagreb had a coldness, a severity about it that I really wanted to crack. On that first night, my mom followed my sense of direction, and I led us down a side street in the general direction of our hotel. The side street widened, and it was suddenly lined with ten, fifteen cafes, with cushioned wicker seats and signs in Croatian that suggested a dress code or late night specials. I wanted to come back to that street late on my second night, my last in Zagreb, but I knew I had two more weeks in places I hoped would be less foreboding.

Croatian National Theater.  Note the yellow.

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Street scene.

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This particular streetcar was clean, but many had graffiti on them.

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Looking down over the funicular.

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View from the hill.

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St. Mark’s was under construction.  It’s hard to tell, but the roof design is simply colored wooden tiles.

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The meat market! My mom and I are not afraid to eat anything (more on that to come), so looking at animal heads and organs was not unappetizing.

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I would have been a typically annoyed daughter if my mom had asked this man to do this in front of me, but I am SO glad she did it without me.

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This is a nunnery, and those shutters are painted on.  Opposite this building was a house where only the windows and roof were visible–streets are built over streets, essentially burying parts of the city.

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Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mother.  My mom is in pink, taking it all in.

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Open-air market at the city center.  I was sitting at the cafe when the 1:00 bells rang.  It was a beautiful sight and sound.

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This is an advertisement painted directly on the building side.

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Graffiti.

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I liked some of it.

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Braille / graffiti juxtaposition.

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I tried to Photoshop this to make them more visible–SEX, penis, musical notes…

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Evening walk in a not so great part of the city.

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Bled, Slovenia

From Zagreb, we went northwest into Slovenia toward Bled. Highway construction made for a slow ride but suggested economic growth and progress. We passed small villages of white stucco homes with red tile roofs, and always a church. Bled is nestled in the northwest corner of Slovenia, not far from the Austrian border. Suddenly, out our windows, the hills flattened, and we saw the ice-capped peaks of the Alps ahead.

Bled is a resort town made famous by Josip Broz Tito, leader of Yugoslavia from 1943 until his death in 1980. Here, I want to establish that the history of the former states of the Yugoslavian Republic is made complicated by centuries of war, ethnic cleansing, suppression of religious freedom, corrupt leadership, and detrimental intervention by other nations. I learned a great deal about the history during my trip, as our guide Jovanka is a Serb who grew up in Croatia and was forced to leave the country almost three decades ago; she has lived in Canada since and is heartbroken that she cannot return permanently to the country she calls home. She has done graduate work in art history and is certified as a top tier guide. By the end of the trip, I still could not tell which country she felt was at fault—militant Serbia, jealous of Croatia’s flourishing coastline tourist industry, or self-pitying, grudging Croatia, perpetuating racial segregation and religious intolerance by expelling native Serbs from land that had been in their families for generations. To think that a Croat/Serb marriage would be labeled “mixed” or “interracial”…

That said, Tito’s status as a hero is not up for debate—his name connotes national identity and economic strength. And he certainly chose well when building his resort palace.

Our hotel was on the south side of small Bled lake. From the lobby window, we could see a small island with a church on it in the northwest of the lake, and a fairytale castle perched on a dwarf mountain on its east shore, with an idyllic stone village nestled against its cliff. As we checked in, Jovanka let us know that if we were lucky enough to have a waterfront room with a balcony, keep our joy and elation to ourselves. My mom and I were lucky. We were to be in Bled for two full days, and we were encouraged to explore, relax, enjoy.

After one of many forgettable buffet dinners the first night, my mom and I decided to see the village. We took a gravel trail along the lake to the village, which took about 5 minutes, and decided to go on. The sun was setting. I saw a wooden sign on a tree with TO CASTLE inscribed on it, hand-painted, with an arrow. My mom and I agreed: why not?

The ascent was a narrow and rocky path that traversed the small mountain. I kept looking up to see if the height of the trees would level. As the sky darkened, we decided we could not stop—we had to make it to the castle. Would we? It was hard not to conjure up images of storybook witches, wolves, and trolls. We finally arrived at the base of the castle and ascended well worn stairs, stopping to photograph arrow slits and sunset views over the lake, none of which came out. Storybook images came to life when we reached the main courtyard of the castle. Young people dressed in Medieval garb were hanging out drinking beers. They ignored us, and we went on our way. My mom went on to the hotel, and I stopped at “Irish Bar” for a Karlo.

Our only planned activity was a gondolier boat ride to Blejski Otok, Church of Mary the Queen on Bled Island. The ride provided our first glimpse of Vila Bled, Tito’s home, now a Relais & Chateau. After we docked, the stairs we climbed dated to 1655, but the church itself had been built on top of previous structures. I seem to recall learning that artifacts had been found on the island dating to a millennium ago. The church was ornately dressed, and we all took turns ringing its bell, the rope dangling before the altar.

I decided I needed some time to myself. Long bus rides, buffet meals, and hotel room cohabitation were beginning to stress me out, and I asked my mom for the first time if we could separate. She wanted to walk the perimeter of the lake and insisted she would not eat another full meal at midday. I was on vacation. Exercise and meal skipping were not at all what I had in mind. I scheduled myself a massage appointment at a nearby hotel for later in the day and proceeded to walk to Vila Bled.

Despite my casual (and a bit sweaty) appearance, the hotel staff happily welcomed me and seated me on the outdoor terrace overlooking the lake. There were two gentlemen finishing lunch when I arrived, and it was not long before I had the palace to myself. The Balkans are relatively inexpensive, but Vila Bled was LA-priced. I ordered a “rocket salad” with marinated beef at about $20. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had in my life. The beef came out tartare with a sweet tomato coulis on top, with swollen, translucent red peppercorns.  Pag cheese and truffle cream garnished it. The “rocket” referred to an assemblage of lettuce leaves held together at their base that “exploded” apart when I prodded them with my fork.

I walked back to the south shore, watching crew boats and ducks. I would have been content to call it a day, but I still had a massage appointment to look forward to. I am very comfortable getting massages, and I generally prefer women. They invariably overcompensate for their size by sticking their elbows into the crevasses of my back and get their teeny tiny fingers between the muscles and tendons in my arm. I also prefer women because… they’re women. A friend who does massage therapy says that attraction to a masseur or masseuse is usually not an issue because people try so hard not to be turned on.

It was a fine massage. But the guy was cute, and it was just a little difficult for me to enjoy the massage when I had to try so hard not to enjoy it. Gahhh. I stayed at the hotel to use the pool (and waterslide), then bought some phallic-looking chocolate covered bananas and beer on my walk back to the hotel. My mom and I went out to dinner on the waterfront and agreed that we were ready to leave in the morning.

Bled Castle and the village.

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I took this.  I love it.

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My mom took this.  I love it, too.

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View from the castle, looking down at our hotel.

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Gondolier ride.  The fog is hiding the splendor of the Alpine peaks.

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The church island.

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Vila Bled.  I ate under one of those porticos.

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Ringing the bell.

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Me.

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My lunch.

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After my massage, I went swimming in the hotel pool, and I went down the waterslide many times!  Note the mountain view.

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Phallic candy and beer.

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Lipica, Slovenia

We stopped in Lipica, Slovenia, to see the “world famous Lipizzaner horses,” military horses that do tricks for audiences of suburban families at armories between gun shows and circuses, and I was bored out my freaking mind as soon as we got off the bus. Our guide was an atypical Slovenian, which is to say that she was funny and loud. (She acknowledged this.) When she finally took a seat in the stands, she sat next to me, and I finally decided I might as well take an interest in the horses and asked her some questions. Take an interest I did, when she drew my attention to the trainers and I noticed that under his riding cap, one was a ridiculously hot guy. I actually thought to myself, “How many 22-28 year old men in Lipica, Slovenia can there be on Facebook?”

The highlight of the day was when one of our travelers asked about young horses. When Lipizzaner horses are born, they’re brown. Over the first four years of their life, their hair turns white, and their skin stays gray. One in ten horses stay brown. Our traveler asked if such a horse could still perform in shows, and our guide said in her harsh eastern European accent, “Of course! Color does not matter. They are animals, not people!”

Not my trainer, but trainers nonetheless.

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Baby and momma.

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Trieste, Italy

Trieste, Italy is really an Austrian port, but as it goes with war, it happens to be in Italy now. (See map.) I was as excited about being able to increase my country count (with Italy no less!) as I was about actually spending a few hours in Trieste. A few hours was not enough to really appreciate any city, so you might as well get excited about updating your Facebook TripAdvisor map application.

There are several ways to spend a few hours in a city. For many of our travelers, it was to wander aimlessly around the central courtyard of the city, whining about how all of the shops and restaurants close between about 1 and 4 for the traditional midday meal.

My mom and I found a restaurant along a small canal for lunch. She ordered a Caprese salad, and I ordered a vaguely named seafood salad. It was as though the chef saw us arrive with our cameras and our guidebook and decided to test us.

I received a plate with two pieces of lettuce, a couple of shrimp, like six mussels out of the shell, and about two dozen miniature octopuses. Head, tentacles, the full body.

I am a really adventurous eater, but that was a plate of protein I was not prepared for. I had choices. I could order something else. I could eat around the octopuses. Or, my mom and I could arrange a family of octopuses on her plate and take pictures of them, then eat them all, every last one. I thought we had sufficiently impressed the staff with our un-American appreciation for and consumption of a plate of whole bodies of mollusk. My mom requested the check and went to go to the bathroom, and all of a sudden, I heard a full scream followed by loud laughter.

My mom had clearly encountered her first hole in the ground lavatory.

As she walked out to the judgmental sneers of Italians around us, frantically excited to tell me about it, I gave her my most intense and sincere death stare and said, “You are SO American. It was a hole in the ground, wasn’t it. Uh!” and stormed inside to relieve myself. I really hate those damn toilets.

Anyway, we continued on, me being annoyed with her for ruining the progress we had made to completely undo stereotypes of American tourists at that particular restaurant (except for our arranging octopuses on a plate then taking pictures of them), her being completely annoyed with me for being so stuck-up about her loudness (after having had a part in arranging octopuses on a plate then taking pictures of them). I just walked ahead of her, uphill. I kept going uphill, taking whichever turn I felt like taking, until suddenly we were at the ruins of the Teatro Romano, and we had a spectacular view out over the city and the ocean.

On the road again.

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Driving into Trieste.

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Busy streets… because everyone was going home and closing shops and businesses.

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City center.

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Ciao!

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A musician is playing a cello in front of this building–really beautiful sight and sound.

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The canal, next to our lunch cafe.

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Perpetuating stereotypes of Americans, one day at a time.

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Pretty.

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Ruins at the Teatro Romano, atop the hill.

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Seagulls.

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Memorial statue at the fortress.

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View of the coastline.

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View of the coastline.

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The only time I would see Dalmatians on the Dalmatian coast.

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Opatija, Croatia

We arrived in Opatija on Friday, May 30. We had essentially spent the day in three countries, and when we arrived in the beautiful seaside city, we were ready to do as little as possible. Our hotel, Hotel Milenij, was situated on the coastline just north of the busy café scene, and a short walking tour of the city would make it abundantly clear that it was one of the nicest hotels there. My mom and I were hungry and exhausted. We were greeted with cookies and mocktails, and it was really just exciting to look out the lobby window and see the Adriatic. I was envisioning sipping wine and sampling cheeses on a patio with the coastal breeze salting my hair and skin, so while she waited for our key, I went to the supermarket across the street and purchased a bottle of plavac and a couple of Coke Zeros and waters. We were handed our keys and went to our room, and there it was—a large king bed, inland view. After Bled, it would be hard to complain. But we talked about it, and we decided we should at least try to get a new room with two beds.

Three pairs of travelers were already back in the lobby, having come across the same setup, and two were being vicious about the error. I pulled my mom into a huddle, and I persuaded her it would be best for us to wait it out. We told Jovanka we’d like a new room if it was possible, then we stood back and watched as travelers yelled at her, threatening to call the operator country and report her. It was so ugly.

We were last to be reassigned, and Jovanka was in tears. We assured her it was not a problem and that the other travelers were out of line. We took our new room assignment. Third floor (highest floor), north wing. We unlocked the door, and, moment of truth: ocean view out of windows on both the south and west walls, two beds, spacious room, enormous bathroom with fresh rosemary sprigs in the sink. We later heard that the hotel paid for the guests assigned to that room to stay in a different hotel, and there was a supermodel fashion shoot on our pool deck the following morning. We got to see the lead model, Nina, up close, and yeah, she’s hot.

It being a Friday night in a city with a reputation for its nightlife, with regular cameos of Croatian celebrities and increasingly American ones, I expressed a strong interest (!) in going out. My mom wanted to come with me. I wasn’t opposed to it, but I made it clear that she didn’t have to, for my safety. In general, I find it frustrating when people opt to do something they clearly don’t want to do, then make their discomfort known to me. Pretend! She smiled while I drank a shooter called “Seaman’s sperm” and listened to me excitedly speculate about what kind of celebrities were being photographed by paparazzi a few tables away.

If anyone is actually reading this far into this, they might notice that I’ve not yet talked about how we interacted with Croatians. The answer, simply put, is civilly.

My mom and I decided to do our own thing the following morning. She wanted to exercise, and I wanted to eat a late breakfast. Milenij’s breakfast display was by far the best of the trip. Every day, I had chosen to eat bread, cheese, and smoked meats or sausages for breakfast, but there, I could have smoked salmon and brie. And in addition to the usual options of water, juice, and coffee, I saw champagne on ice. “Vacation!” I thought. “And weekend!” I could not possibly justify it any better—I filled a flute with champagne and added a drop of orange juice, just enough to make it look like I wasn’t drinking a full glass of champagne, and brought my meal, and my New Yorker, out to the terrace. It was one of the few times I went back for seconds, of everything.

My mom and I spent much of the late morning playing cards at a café, watching clouds pass with occasional raindrops, and by 2 or 3pm, the sky was clear and we were hungry. We wandered into a popular café, completely nondescript. The servers looked stressed, and ours seemed especially aggravated when we sat at a free table before he cleared it. He wiped it down and slammed a plate of five raw fish on the table, then disappeared. His English was not good, and we did not know what kind of fish it was. They looked like sardines and were dressed with lemon and a little bit of garlic.

He could not have anticipated that these two American blond women would finish all five fish by the time he came back to take our food order. Only the head and tail were left of each–the bones were soft enough to eat. “Good!” we said to him, nodding. He was thrilled–everything about his body language changed. We ordered squid ink risotto, which also seemed to please him, and small salads. He brought us another plate of fish, and our risotto came out on a large plate, perfectly black, covered with freshly grated peg cheese. It was one of my favorite meals on the trip. When we returned to the hotel, I sat on the patio, reading the New Yorker and drinking wine, for the duration of the day. It was then that I finally felt relaxed, and completely satisfied.

Pitstop en route to Opatija.

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View from our hotel!

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Opatija at night.

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I took a short morning walk on Saturday, and set a self-timer.

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The storm front, coming up along the Adriatic from the south. I was very excited to hear word that a big storm was coming through France and Italy, and that such news would actually affect me.

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Poppy on my walk.

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A slide on my walk–try to read what’s written on it.

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The photo shoot. I saw the supermodel do a TV interview in my hotel lobby, and she’s apparently very famous there.

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Our sardine-like fish.

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Squid ink risotto. I did heavy Photoshop work on this to make the pasta look like anything other than a black blob! Next to it was our “pag cheese salad,” which I think inspired my mom to buy really fancy rasps for us both later in the summer.

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The patio, where I proceeded to spend the entire afternoon.

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Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park covers sixteen lakes, interconnected by waterfalls, and they are spectacular. To get there, our bus had to turn inland, and I was none too pleased to spend another half-day on the bus after an entire day of sipping wine and watching waves.

But the drive was interesting, if saddening. We passed through a number of villages with shelled homes that were never repaired, with ripe weeds and vines suddenly ensnaring the abandoned homes. The relative newness of the war was palpable, as Jovanka said the countryside is still littered with undiscovered land mines that pose a very serious threat to rural communities. We even saw a swastika spray-painted on a home.

Jovanka let us take in the scenery for some time before picking up her microphone again. Her voice was suddenly upbeat, as she announced that we would be stopping soon. She explained that this particular region was known for its heirloom slivovica, or slivovitz, and also honey, and we would have the opportunity to stop at roadside stands providing samples of, and selling, homemade bottles of Croatia’s version of moonshine. I can barely justify mimosas before 11am with a straight face, so shots of 90 proof plum brandy were just pernicious.

Jovanka, a mind-reader, then assured us that rural Croats treated slivovica as a morning cure-all, not unlike a cup of black coffee and two aspirin.

“Well, if that’s the case,” I told my mom.

“You can have my free samples,” she said. She doesn’t drink.

“Deal.”

I thought perhaps our tour was special, that any second, our driver would turn down a dirt road–ideally, one without land mines–and we would be alone, with all the time in the world to sample as much sweet, fruity slivoviva as our hearts desired and livers could process. (How bad could this stuff be?)

The bus finally slowed, and before I could see roadside stands, tourbuses came into sight. One, two–ten, sixteen–we kept rolling through the village until we were almost through it and finally parked near a stand with only two other tourbuses near it. “Well, at least I’m not the only lush in this country,” I thought as I exited the bus and made my way to the crowded tasting table, surrounded by older couples. The last time I’d been in situations where this many people were clamoring for free alcohol was college, at fraternity parties.

The irony of the scene is that slivovica is masochistic, even if you flavor it with cherry, and especially if you flavor it with juniper. It tastes of neither plums nor brandy, and it cleared my sinuses when I had no traces of a cold.

As such, I didn’t want to buy any for myself, and bringing a bottle back to anyone in my life I remotely care for as a “gift” was not unlike giving them an authentic Croatian can of diesel fuel and a tongue scraper–not to mention the mass it would add to my suitcase, which I planned to get back to the states intact. I asked my mom to go through the tasting line for me, taking her up on her offer, and eagerly waited by the honey samples, pitying the slurring travelers around me carrying bottles of slivovica they’d naively purchased in their altered states of mind.

My mom did not come back holding a free sample. And my dad swears he enjoys the slivovica his sweet wife brought home for him, all the way from Croatia.

Our group pressed on to lunch at a large cafeteria-style restaurant outside the national park. This deep in the middle of nowhere, dining options were few, but Jovanka seemed particularly excited about it. (I now realize it could have been the slivovica. She might have been responsible for our happiness, but it’s not like she was our designated driver.)

Its parking lot was the kind with long lines indicating spaces specifically for tour buses, with tour buses parked in them. For whatever reason, I recall walking into a strong aroma; of what could be any variety of things, but its tripe soup or fileki certainly contributed. Jovanka swore by it, my mom was into it, and, not one to be outdone when I’m buzzed, I reluctantly went in on it too. We were the only people on the tour who’d ordered it, and it was my first experience with tripe. It wasn’t bad, I told my mom and Jovanka, who were happily eating bovine stomach lining with little more interest than if it were chicken-noodle. I could only think of the meat market back in Zagreb, where rumen linings were laid out in layers like fuzzy bathroom rugs in home-ware stores. Recognizing that I badly needed protein and virtually any flavor to replace the traces of slivovica in my mouth, I finished my bowl. But I did not care for the texture. At all.

My nausea didn’t set in for about 15 minutes, and the best word I can think of to describe the feeling is “pronounced.” My mom was particularly sympathetic and took me to the cafeteria general store to buy a Coke Zero and some candy. She was having a fantastic day, and I think I was getting what I deserved.

Once we arrived at our hotel, we had an hour or two to relax before coming back together to do a short tour of the lower lakes. I was put off by a TV show called “American Dad” that depicted a chubby character who hit his wife. I changed the channel to something like VH1 back when it played music, and it was actually then that I discovered M.I.A. and her song “Paper Planes.”

The lakes were impressive, and here, photos speak more to the beauty than I can. The water was bright blue and almost transparent, and we traversed parts of the lakes on narrow wooden walkways, just inches above the flow. Most in our group weren’t particularly athletic, so once our formal tour ended, my mom and I decided to hike up several more lakes. The sky was slightly overcast, but we wanted to risk it. Soon, we were gliding from one pool of water to the next pool up waterfalling into it, hunched over our cameras to prevent the spitting rain from getting to them, and trying to gauge how far away the lightning was. We were fine. And the photographs came out brilliantly.

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Trogir, Croatia

Up to this point, Jovanka had not said much about Split. She said our hotel was really new and upscale. That’s all I can recall. In my notes at the time, I wrote down that she said “split” translated to a local flower.

As our bus worked its way back to the coastline from the lakes, Jovanka gave our group the option of going to Trogir–an idyllic Medieval village surrounded by water on three sides, almost perfectly intact, fond memories from her childhood, a destination so rare and a departure from the itinerary so mischievous we had to promise her we would not tell the tour operator she had done it with us, but, let’s be honest, for us–or going right to Split. Of which she said nothing.

Trogir it was.

The village was beautiful, and we soon found ourselves in a maze of retail shops, cafes, and residences. Stone pathways and walls were spotted with plants and strung with clotheslines, and old and new blended beautifully as one traveler pointed out a placard for a building established in 2008 next to one dating to the 14th century. The highlight of the city is the Cathedral and Mausoleum of St. John, the city’s protector. (I think he’s done a fine job.) His bones are preserved–or so one hopes–in icons kept in a modest display room in a wing of the cathedral.

My mom and I had a pleasant pasta lunch on the water, then we split off to do some exploring of our own. I got lost in the maze and was almost disappointed to find my way back.

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Split, Croatia

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Korcula, Croatia

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Dubrovnik, Croatia

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Kotor, Montenegro

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