And there I sat. The ground cold and bare beneath me. The streetlights shining in front of me. The sweet crooning of an acoustic guitar duo wafted down from the bar above. People were walking by. Going to bars. Going home from bars. Some drunk. Stumbling. Some aimlessly wandering. Some arguing. Couples occasionally stopped to twirl or slow dance.
And there I was. Alone. On the side of a street in Split, Croatia. A magical city. An enchanting city. With walls that looked as though they were hundreds of years old. Stones crumbling. Imposing Roman ruins. A military fortress. A fortified town. Smooth marble-like slabs created a walkway that you could slide around without lifting your feet. You had to be extra careful going down steps in shoes with no traction. Huge Marble columns. 4 large gates into the palace. Golden gate, Bronze gate, Silver gate and Iron gate. The street lights cast a romantic, medieval light all around.
A gorgeous city by the sea. Enchanting. Narrow winding labyrinth streets. Some leading to dead ends. Some to nearly hidden restaurants and bars. The Cathedral of St Dominus loomed in the middle of everything. The vestibule, a giant circular done with the ceiling open to the sky. Everytime I walked in there was some band playing or men singing traditional Dalmation songs. The acoustics were incredible. Below it was the basement which was full of tables with all sorts of things for sale. Art. Lavender infused everything. Jewelry. Trinkets. Every sound echoed and the walls were made of crumbling stone, from when the palace was in use so many years ago. Just outside the palace was the huge statue of Gregorius of Nin. They say you can rub his big toe for good luck and wishes. Coffee drinking for long hours and a laid back, relaxed atmosphere vibbed from every corner.
I wandered around all day after getting in late the night before. I got off the plane at 9:30 pm from Rome (after leaving my wild and, dirty but beautiful Napoli). The next bus to town was at 11. The taxi was 50 euros. Thankfully another lone traveler came looking for the Bus stop and we both balked at the wait time. We decided to split a taxi. We looked around. There were no taxis. Whatever. We decided to hitchhike. It was a 40 minute drive from the airport. We were sure someone was headed to town.
After 8 minutes and 4 cars, one pulled to the side. He said he was just headed 10 minutes down the road but for 30 euros he’d take us to town. Perfect. A local who worked at a car rental company. He filled my ears with magical stories of Croatia. I was excited.
I had struggled to find a CouchsurfEr anywhere in Croatia. My hostel, I had booked at the airport 10 minutes before boarding was in the heart of the old town palace, Diocletian’s palace. It turned out a couple of the people on my plane were there too. I didn’t realize that until late that night or early the next morning. Including the 3 long haired beautiful Australian men that stumbled in drinker than a skunk at 3 am. Laughing. Stumbling. Nearly falling on my bed. Throwing their clothes and toothbrushes and beer bottles all around. Gross. It was a struggle to get back to sleep.
Whatever. Hostel life.
I wandered the day by myself. Stopping by different tourist agencies. No one seemed that interested in giving out information. They seemed bored. One word answers. But I wanted to go to the waterfalls. I knew I’d find one place that called to me. And I did. A sweet lady actually looked me in the eyes. Talked to me. Was interested in me. Told me that a storm was coming and they were giving discounted tickets for the weekend because Monday and onward were stormy. Perfect.
Split is a gorgeous city. Full of life. I felt like I went back in time. The people I gushed with excitement to about it said I hadn’t seen anything yet. Head to Dubrovnik, they said. They gave me a list of a few other cities and villages to check out. I put them on my never ending wish list of places to go visit.
I walked in the palace walls. Taking in the essence of everything. Touching the walls. Trying to suck out its stories from the past. I wandered the pier. Too many carnival cruise boats and tourist excursion jet boats. And little booths selling the same sunglasses and swimsuits and jewelry and bags over and over. I wandered past the city to the more authentic village on the outskirts with crumbling rock buildings. Cats milled about in the sunshine. Croatian music blared from an upstairs window with someone singing blaringly off key. The smell, the delicious smells of things being baked of cooked made my tummy turn with yearning. I ended up wandering up this hill step after step. Incline after incline. I was curious where it went. I ended up at the top of a beautiful mountain with a breathtaking view of the city and the sea. My camera didn’t do it justice so I didn’t even take a picture.
I wanted food . In Croatia, it’s cheap sure. Most dishes were 80 or 100 kuna ($11-15). The street pizza slices were 15 kuna ($2.50). Take away sandwiches and wraps were 30 ($4.75). Tempting. But I was trying to see how cheap I could do it, since I knew I’d be spending money on going to see waterfalls. At the grocery store I got a small baguette, some slices of cheese, a few slices of the local spiced meat stuff and a tomato. It ended up being 8 kuna ($1.20). Perfect 🙂 I ended up also getting similar for dinner and for lunch to take with me to the waterfalls the next day.
I also splurged and bought some cheap jewelry and some much needed new clothes
That night I met with some fellow CouchsurfEr travelers. 2 girls from Holland. A couple from Germany. A couple from Finland. A New Yorker. A local. Slowly they trickled in. It was quite fun to talk to people. We swapped stories and chugged local beers. We laughed. We shared pictures from previous places we’ve been or places we’ve lived. We talked of eastern sauropod vs Western Europe. How it was difficult to get Croatians to open up difficult to find CouchsurfErs. I didn’t want to leave. I felt welcome. But I had to be up and ready to go to the waterfalls at 8am and I knew it was easy to get in the “just one more” and before you know it it’s 2am and you’re wasted. I left at 10:45.
But walking back I decided I wasn’t ready to sleep. This city was too lively. It was a Friday night. I walked around. Past the loud, but happy and contained backpackers bar, people spilling out into the street. Past fancy restaurants where couples and families were still dining gracefully. Past a throng of people on a pub crawl, already falling all over at 11, loud, shouting at random people they saw as they stumbled down the road to their next bar or club. Past some fancy live music at one of the squares, everyone sitting around on little cushions or standing and taking it all in.
And then I heard acoustic guitar. And the beautiful sounds of “Wonderwall” by oasis. I wandered toward the sound. Outside of the palace walls. The sound grew more lovely and comforting as I walked closer. The song ended and “Stand by me” started. I found a little ledge to sit on below the bar where the guys were playing. There was a blue light that illuminated them against the grey stoney walls.
And all the people were walking by. Couples danced. Friends argued. Couples kissed. Friends laughed. Some drunker than others. And I sat there, alone, softly singing along, taking in all the things, the people around me. And I was filled with strange feelings. Of being alone. But not necessarily lonely. I didn’t really want or need anyone to come talk to me. I was enjoying people watching and this beautiful music by myself. It was a good feeling.
Yet, all the couples. Dancing. Twirling. Kissing. Holding hands. The guys with their hands on the small of the small of their girl’s back. That filled me with a yearning for such a feeling again. I suppose I had been lucky on this trip and had a couple magical people. But that kinda made me wish for it more. Because those were temporary. A couple weekends here … A week there… I wanted affection.
Do I want stability? Yes. I had this conversation the other day. Stability is scary to me. I fear if I stay too long in one place. Or friends or more with someone for too long they would get bored of me. Or I would get annoying. Or a burden. Or they’d reveal they never wanted me in the first place, but I was just there so why not. That a staying in the same place for too long would suffocate me. I don’t want to be broken again. It’s safer to have little things and mutually move on and if things are meant to be then they are. I just want magical moments with people. New Friends. Strangers. Old Friends. The thrill of someplace shiny and new and all the opportunities and magic that could be waiting. The intimate journey of getting to know a beautiful stranger and hear their stories and watching the little things they do that they don’t realize they’re doing and slowly seeing behind their mask they put on for society and see them as they really are. Through conversations. Long walks. Sunsets. Cooking. And not intimate in a sexual way, but intimate in a seeing the soul kind of intimate.
Blah blah blah.
Yes, as I told someone last night. And I mention on here multiple times. I travel to meet beautiful strangers. To connect. To make friends. To create magical memories. To have stories to take home. Not necessarily to see things.
And I suppose in the process I am shedding parts of me I don’t need or never was in the first place. And discovering who I am and what I needed all along.