Home and Away.

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This picture, below, makes me smile. Dottoressa, Hubby, and me having lunch in Zagreb last month. Our waiter took the shot. Hubby was making a comment about something; I can’t remember what. I know we all had a good laugh. We had lots of good laughs that afternoon, in fact.

Was it only last month we were in Croatia? That’s hard to believe.

Meeting friends in Zagreb, Croatia.
Dottoressa, Hubby, and me at Fotic restaurant in Zagreb.

It seems that this fall has been a repeating pattern of home and away, home again, then away, then home again. Lately I’ve been having trouble remembering where I am when I wake up in the middle of the night. Am I home? At Mum’s? Or away? Maybe in the third floor bedroom of our little apartment in Motovun, or the one in Zagreb where the bed is up a ladder in a small loft under the eaves? If that’s the case, I’d better get out of bed carefully so I don’t fall and break a leg.

The other night when I awoke, I was lying facing the full-length mirror in our bedroom at home. And the reflection of the room was so unfamiliar, and so disorienting, that I had to blink a couple of times to remember where I was. To remember which side of the bed to get out of, and which way it is to the door. I guess this is par for the course; I mean, I have slept in a lot of different places since September. In so many beds, at home and away.

Quiet street in Zagreb, Croatia.
The streets of Zagreb, on a quiet Saturday afternoon.

But you know, that can’t be the reason. In 2017 we were away for six weeks in South America, and I didn’t feel this way when we came home. And twice we’ve been gone for three months to New Zealand and Australia where, except for a couple of four or five-day stints, we moved at least every other night. So it can’t be the amount of time away, nor the number of strange beds in which I’ve awoken and tried to remember where the heck the bathroom was. Ha.

No, I think that this trip was different because no matter where we were, in a hill town in Istria, or on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, we felt as if we’d somehow slipped into the rhythm of life there. We felt at home, even though we were away.

This was especially true in Zagreb. We adored Zagreb. It’s kind of a Goldilocks city, not too big, nor too small. Just right, in fact. It’s beautiful and historic. Totally walkable. With gracious squares and lovely old buildings, interesting open markets, and quirky museums. Okay, I do admit we only visited the quirky ones, so I may be biased.

We stayed in a small, immaculately renovated apartment on the top floor of an old building a few minutes walk from the historic centre of Zagreb. We found a wonderful pastry shop on the corner of our street, steps from our front door, wine shops and grocery stores within a block, and more coffee shops than we could count. Not that we tried to count them. And for three days we sauntered and strolled to our heart’s content. We poked our noses in old churches, shopped at the street markets, climbed the cobblestone streets to upper town, and sipped bijela kava (milky coffee, like our latté) in outdoor cafés.

Monument of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Zagreb, Croatia.
Monument of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
National Theatre in Zagreb, Croatia.
Croatian National Theatre
Saint Mark's Church, Zagreb, Croatia.
Saint Mark’s Church with its beautiful tiled roof.

I chose two museums that I really wanted to see. Hubby and I both loved the tiny Croatian Museum of Naïve Art. The paintings and drawings seemed the stuff of folk tales, to us. As if the paintings illustrated the stories and fairy tales we’d heard or read as children. And yet I know they are meant to depict the lives and histories of the artists and their communities, sometimes literally, and sometimes symbolically.

Museum of Naive Art,  Zagreb Croatia.
We both adored the works in this little museum.

We visited the Museum of Broken Relationships because I knew that my friend Frances, of Materfamilias Writes, had been there and loved it. Hubby was a bit skeptical at first, but he soon found himself captivated by the stories which accompanied each exhibit. You can read all about this quirky little museum here if you want.

Exhibit at the Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb Croatia.
One of my favourite exhibits at the Museum of Broken Relationships
At the Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb Croatia.
No dear, you’re not an old wreck.

And of course in between all this strolling and admiring we met up with Dottoressa, who you know from her comments here on my blog. This is Dottoressa and me, below. On Hubby’s and my first morning in Zagreb, Dottoressa met us for coffee, and we made plans for the rest of our stay. She looked so chic in her tan sweater and gorgeous leather jacket. See how she pulled the blue of her jeans and the tan of the sweater together with her scarf? Sigh. I have to confess that I was suffering from serious outfit envy here.

Meeting friends in Zagreb, Croatia.
I’m thinking here how much I wish I had my fall clothes, or Dottoressa’s jacket.

In fact, I suffered from outfit envy the whole time we were in Zagreb. The women of this city are very chic. Even in their sneakers and casual jackets, they look pulled together. All these fashion distractions made me, at times, a bit oblivious to some of the cultural attractions.

Case in point. When we stood at the cross-walk behind the lady in the red skirt and navy Moncler jacket, below, Hubby spoke to me. He said something that was no doubt important about an historic edifice we’d just passed. But my mind was elsewhere, and I replied, “You know, I could wear my navy Burberry denim skirt with navy tights when I get home. I know it’s a spring skirt, but it’s quite heavy, and with my navy cashmere turtleneck and ankle boots, and my down vest, it would be perfect for fall.” Hubby gaped at me, “What?!”

Thinking about his response makes me chuckle. I mean, he should know me well enough by now, don’t you think? After four weeks on the road, I was dying for my fall clothes. For a bit of shopping, and some seriously shallow fashion talk.

That evening, Dottoressa picked us up, and took us back to her home for dinner. We had a lovely time. Great food. Lots of Croatian wine. And wonderful conversation. We talked about politics, history, books, and even a little fashion. We told stories and laughed a lot. Hubby ate way too much food. And Dottoressa and I arranged to meet the next day for an hour of shopping before we met Hubby for lunch.

When I set off the next morning, Hubby said to tell Dottoressa he might be a bit late. He’d be slower than usual since he was carrying a couple of extra pounds from all the good food the night before. Ha. I barely heard his joke as I tripped down the stairs, happy to be on my own for the first time in weeks, and on my way to meet a friend and do some shopping. Hallelujah.

Dottoressa and I made the rounds of the shops, taking particular notice of the Max Mara stores where I almost gave in to the temptation of a wonderful cashmere sweater. But I resisted. We did discover, though, just how much we have in common when it comes to fashion. The styles we love, and those which leave us cold. It warms my heart to know that someone as intelligent, as accomplished, and as cultured as Dottoressa loves clothes as much as I do. Ever since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve been amazed at that: how many women there are out there, women my age, smart women, who love books and culture, and who also love fashion and clothes just as much as I do. Makes me feel so much less shallow.

After lunch, Hubby and I bid adieu to Dottoressa. I was a bit tearful as we hugged. She’d been so very generous to us, two relative strangers that she only knew from the internet. I was sad to say good-bye when we were just getting to know each other. It seemed amazing to me that we’d only met in real life the day before.

Meeting friends in Zagreb, Croatia.
Replete from shopping and fashion talk, we await Hubby and lunch.

Hubby and I had one more day in Zagreb before we flew home. It hardly seemed possible that our trip so long in the planning, so anticipated, and so very much enjoyed was almost over, but it was.

As I’ve been writing this post today, Hubby and I have discussed how we felt about Zagreb, and about the Balkans in general. How very much we loved our trip. How at home we felt everywhere we went. As if we belonged. Even though the culture is in many ways very different from our own. And the language so foreign to us. In fact the only things I learned to say in Croatian were “dobro” which means good, and “bijela kava, molim” or coffee with milk, please.

How could we explain the fact that we seemed to slip so seamlessly into the fabric of wherever we were? Was it because we stayed a bit longer in each place than we normally do? Long enough to get a feel for the neighbourhood at least. Was it because we were not in a hurry, had no real “must do” list, could in many places change our plans for the day if we desired? Was it because we met so many lovely people, chatted with so many hosts, and waiters, and store clerks about their lives and their communities? Or because we consciously avoided the big places, the busiest places, the crowded places, at least for the most part?

Maybe the slower pace of our trip and the places we visited made for a kinder, gentler travel experience. Which in turn abated the usual stress of travel. I mean except for using the port-a-pottie in gale-force winds enroute to Rab, or meeting a dump truck on that narrow mountain road in Montenegro, our trip was pretty stress free. And if I don’t count one very rude policeman in Trebinje, and a few oddly aggressive fellow tourists wielding umbrellas on the narrow wooden walkways in Plitvice National Park, everyone we met was lovely.

In fact, the only downside to the whole trip is that once home in Ottawa for a couple of weeks, laundry done, and closet turned, I headed down east to my mum’s for two weeks, then came home from home, and now I’m having trouble when I wake up in the dead of night figuring out where in the heck I am. Am I home in Ottawa? Home in New Brunswick? Or away, in all those other places in which we felt so at home?

I tell you folks, it’s kind of doing my head in.

Sunset on the Saint John River, at home in New Brunswick
I love this shot of the river at home, at sunset.

But, you know, I think what I’ve learned from all this is that the best kind of travel is the kind where you can feel at home no matter where you are. What do you think?

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38 thoughts on “Home and Away.”

  1. I will always think about my city as Goldilocks city :-),living in a fairy tale, can’t be bad,no?
    Web is really a beautiful thing-sometimes you meet people from “other worlds “and feel like they’ve always been your friends-it happened with you and Stu,as well as with Frances and Paul,a couple of years ago! I love Canada so much,because of you
    It was such a pleasure to meet you,spend some time with you ( I wished it could be longer,there were so many themes to talk about…….and more shops to visit,window shopping to do,people to watch,coffees to drink and so many books to discuss)
    Thank you for a real love letter to my home town and thank you for your more than kind words about me
    Dottoressa

    1. You are more than welcome, Dottoressa. We were so happy to be able to spend time with you on our trip. And we both really love Zagreb. And Stu doesn’t say that too often… he’s not a city person. xo

  2. I too spent some time recently waking up and having no idea where I was, staring around and trying to orientate myself. Home or away? Most peculiar. Currently sitting in my daughter’s bed – she has jumped in and taken my cosy spot – in Birmingham, before I pack and go home, again. The ability to make a temporary home on the move is very useful. It’s when you get to your permanent place the trouble starts.

  3. I’m a little envious of your meet up with Dottoressa , bet you had fun . I get that disoriented feeling on waking too – glad it’s not just me .I would have loved the naive paintings . We have two prints by an artist from Zagreb , Ivan Lacovic who died a few years ago . They are part of his ‘Four Seasons’ & we chose spring & autumn . We must have bought them 45 years ago & they are still on our walls . I agree they are like illustrations from old children’s books . Quite magical .

  4. I have found that some trips just seem to flow while others end up being hard work. It isn’t necessarily a case of poor planning or preparation but rather a lack of what I have come to believe is the magic alchemy of being on the right path at the right time, for me. I think travel is a far more personal experience that we sometimes realise. I have had the same experience of waking up not not immediately knowing were I am and I think you are right it is about being comfortable in your surroundings.

    1. Yes… “on the right path at the right time.” I think if we’d done this trip a few years ago we might have felt that we were missing something to do so few cities. But after the crowds in Italy last year… we knew we had made the right decision to go with small places over large ones.

  5. Such a beautifully written post Sue … obviously from the heart. I’ve so enjoyed reading about Zagreb ( hope to visit one day) and your time with D. What a friendly and hospitable lady … with a great style and sense of humour! 😊
    I too get that feeling of waking and being unsure where I am … and sometimes a little disappointed that I’m not where I initially thought! Many years ago, on our second or third visit to Switzerland … the car was packed, ready for the drive home, children in their car seats, Phil keen to get on the road and I felt an overwhelming desire to walk down to the lakeside. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I looked out over the lake to the mountains… a feeling I can only describe as being “homesick” for a place, that wasn’t home. My love for Switzerland had begun…. I still feel torn as we leave and enveloped by a feeling of coming home when we return! I’m smiling now, just thinking about that feeling.
    I do think travelling without a strict agenda or “to do” list, when you can wander, absorb the ambiance and imagine “living like a local” is the way to be … (in my opinion.)
    Rosie

  6. Every word of this post was beautiful, and so many of your thoughts and feelings echoed my own in similar situations. How wonderful that you and your husband developed a face-to-face friendship with Dottoressa – you all seem lovely, inside and out. Also, I laughed out loud at your sartorial musings while your husband was focused on history. The same thing happened to me in the Sistine Chapel, and it’s a relief to know I’m not alone in sometimes succumbing to “fashion distractions”! Thank you for sharing these wonderful details of your trip.

  7. Oh Sue, I understand this so well. We just arrived home two days ago from France. We were away two months and your description of slow travel creates the feeling of home and belonging wherever you are. We carry small familiars with us. No we don’t just travel with with our carry on bags , because we straddle two seasons, and rent a car so no bags to carry on a train. Our weather went from 34°C to 3°C, so the need for a variety of clothes. With a car you can decide to go one way, and then change your mind completely, because it’s all an adventure. For us it’s the people we meet along the way that leave a lasting feeling of belonging to a place. I love just siting in a cafe with coffee or wine and thinking, yes, we’re right where we are supposed to be.
    Yes, and the bed, try and sleep on the same side, as at home, and keep your flashlight beside you at night. Learned that the hard way.
    Tomorrow I would happily get back on a plane and do it all over again…now that the laundry is done.
    Ali

  8. I’m so very happy that you love Zagreb as much as we do — it helps that we were all introduced to the city by Dottoressa. (I have such a fond memory of her picking us up from the train station, whisking us out of the heat and into her air-conditioned vehicle. . . .and I can well imagine Stuart moving more slowly the day after that home-cooked meal. We were overwhelmed!)
    I also experience that disorientation when there have been many beds and many emotions mixed up together through travel. I’m off in a week for some of that myself, although like Rosie, I’m going to a place I know well and that evokes that sense of being homesick for a place that’s not home. . . (I like Ali’s trick of sticking to the same side of the bed and keeping the flashlight on the nightstand. . .

    1. The nighttime flashlight is a good trick. I often just have to lie there until I get the lie of the land, so to speak.
      P.S. Stu had too many helpings of Dottoressa’s delicious strukli. 🙂

  9. This is a beautiful post and it really makes me want to visit Croatia. I think that is so cool that you met Dottoressa on your blog and then were able to meet. The women look so stylish—I am not sure I would have expected that, but not sure why not! My maiden name is Hvala and maybe you know it means thank you in Slovenian and I think also Croatian. My fathers parents emigrated here in the early 1900s. I hope to visit both countries after retirement. Which will be soon God willing. And I TOTALLY understand pondering fashion and your own wardrobe while looking at fashionable women. I do it all the time! Love your posts and these travel ones especially. Sounds like you have lived a charmed life with many wonderful trips.

      1. I would love to hear it pronounced in your country or Slovenia. I met a Croatian restauranteur in my city of Cleveland and he pronounced Hvala and it was such an interesting more guttural pronunciation than how we say it with our American accent. I think Cleveland has more Slovenians and Croatians than any other American city.

  10. Hi Sue
    How nice to meet up with Dottoressa and to see a face to a long time commenter. 😉 Funny how you meet someone and connect right away…I love when that happens.
    Hi Dottoressa, nice to see you!

    My story…Prior to I my Belgium trip I needed to refresh my tired wardrobe. Three new skinny jeans were purchased. When in Belgium I felt I had goofed in my selection of new clothes… the European fashion sense was so different, so stylish and colourful. A looser fit and a shorter length of jeans or pants were worn and gorgeous sweaters, colourful coats and the shoes!! When we’d strolled along, I told my husband to hold my hand so my head could spin.
    I wasn’t completely shallow…so much history was enjoyed too. ;-))
    Robin 😁

  11. I read a few blogs and have noted Dottoressa’s kind and intellectual comments. What a treat to “meet” her. And yes, she is as chic as she is smart. Come to Carcassonne, Dottoressa! You, too, Sue!
    Ali has good advice. (Unsurprising. Yet another kind, intellectual, chic, smart woman whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting IRL.)
    I’ve done a bit of travel and in quite a few countries all I can say are “hello” and “good.” Those two words can go a long way.
    As for travel styles, I prefer the Walter Mitty to the Outside Observer. Walter Mitty moves in. Outside Observer is any Tourist, who notes all the ways These People are not like Our People. Maybe it plays with the brain, but all the better.

  12. I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, that I do love the feeling of being “at home” when we travel. Which is why we keep returning to the same places, same hotels, often the same room. I don’t have the desire for adventure as much as I used to…or the unexpected. I realize I’m not going to see some places in the world, that if we felt differently, we might go to – but it’s a tradeoff, and for now this feels so right.

      1. Thank you Sue. Would you ever consider sharing your itinerary and/or lodging that you loved? It seems your trip was so well planned and smooth. That’s impressive to someone who finds it a daunting task.

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