Croatia never sat of on the top of my must travel list. What I knew about Croatia was mostly from news casts about the war when I was a child. I was too little to understand. Fast forward many years later, my current roommate Aida, a Bosnian, shed light on that part of the world. After hearing her powerful story, I became curious; after she showed me pictures I was ready to get on an airplane. Croatia was where her family had vacationed before the war. All three roommates decided to go together with Aida as our local guide. I fell in love.
With our heart set on traveling to Hvar, we found accommodation at a guesthouse which checked off all of our must-haves in our price range on booking.com. After climbing what seemed like 100,000 stairs with a backpack, we were greeted by the sweetest old lady. Her English was limited, but Croatian and Bosnian are essentially the same language. She was over the moon when Aida greeted her in familiar words and immediately asked us to join her for coffee and cookies. Our stay was wonderful and we promised to come back….. And we did; a year and a half later, we booked the same apartment and that wonderful lady immediately remembered us.
On the morning of our second day, we decided to have a group run to the fort on the hill overlooking Hvar town. It was an uphill battle, but we conquered. As we were leaving the apartment, the owners’ son waved hello. He ran a car and moped rental business attached to the guesthouse. We noticed a cooler lined with beer for sale: our planned reward for after the workout. Upon our return we ran over to quench our thirst on crisp cold Ozujsko. The group had grown with men from the neighborhood settling down for their afternoon gossip. We sat down with our beers and joined the group’s conversation. We tried the best we could to understand everyone using half English, mixed with some Croatian, some German, some Italian, some French. Essentially everyone shared a common second language and well, laughter and smiles are the same no matter what you speak.
Soon enough rain clouds closed in and we all huddled together, opening more beers, each person taking their turn buying another round. We spent three hours making new friends and laughing at each others half understood jokes. The family dog Dzeko (Jako), a silly black lab, was running back and forth to each new friend hoping for a treat. My favorite was this little old man; he and I both spoke some German, so I learned about his life. He had seen it all– WWII, the Russians coming into former Yugoslavia, and then the Yugoslav War itself. His demeanor was so light and pleasant. Every once and a while he would sneak off only to return 20 minutes later in a new outfit complete with fun hat. Eventually a bottle of Greek liquor was produced and sticking with proper European etiquette, we were all expected to take a shot. It tasted like paint thinner, but how could we say no!
This is why I travel. These memories are the ones that will stick with me until I’m that sweet old lady, sipping bourbon in the afternoon with Anna and Julie, of course. Hopefully then too, I can sit with a group of young tourists and laugh for an afternoon. Tell them my stories and adventures, tell them personal accounts of what they learned in history class. While seeing the castle, going to the popular museum or hiking that trail can highlight a trip, it’s when you get to know the people and truly see the culture, that you have graduated from vacationer to traveler.
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Apartments Bodlovic: SimeTome Buzolica 9, Hvar Croatia 21450 booked via http://www.booking.com