I really can’t believe that my travels are almost an end. I’m writing from a German Wings flight from Split to Cologne, where I’ll board a train to Frankfurt for my departure back to Vancouver tomorrow.
This has been one helluva of a trip. 6 weeks of travelling to Prague, Budapest, Graz, Maribor Lake Balaton, Vienna, Bratislava, Zagreb, Split, the island of Brac and Hvar and then to Dubrovnic.
I have visited four new countries to take my total to 44 now. Only 52 more to go to reach my goal of half the world (according to the OECD). Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and Croatia have all provided me with new experiences, cultures and friends.
One thing that has been different for me on this trip was the reliance of the generosity of friends (both existing and new) to put me up in their homes. I am well accustomed to having people coming to stay with me in the various places I’ve lived over the years, I love it and welcome it.
To be on the other side of that though has been truly wonderful, and without a doubt I would not have been able to afford to travel so long had I not stayed with Phi Je and Martina in Graz, Kika in Slovakia, Anna in Vienna, Vjeran in Zagreb, Duje in Split, Luka in Dubrovnik and Marija in Split!
Many of these people had never met me but being an Ultimate Frisbee player affords you a certain rite of passage in this world, which is why I love the community of players as much as the sport. It’s accepted that since you play you must be a decent person, who is open, fun, smart and free-spirited.
I also much prefer staying with locals as it gives you an entirely different view of your trip. I often wonder what tourists who stay in hotels really experience, and what they miss out on.
I also have to reflect on the following lucky moments that helped shape my trip:
- The English lady who overheard the hydrofoil boat from Vienna to Bratislava I had intended to go on was sold out, and then offered me a spare ticket she was looking to sell – I was in the right place at the right time.
- The lovely family from Yugoslavia who live in Australia and have a holiday home (& apartments for rent) on the island of Hvar. They gave Kyla and me a place to stay when we couldn’t find any accommodation. Sleeping on a mattress on their balcony under the stars for free was quite something
- To Luka who I met while wandering back with Kyla via the marina on her final night in Dubrovnik at 1am in the morning. He was finishing up taking boat bookings for the next day and just happened to try to sell me one. Instead he gave me his number which turned into hanging out the next day at the beach, a place to stay at his (when all of Dubrovnik was full – seriously) and riding around on the scooter to see more outside the city walls.
- The buses, trains and planes that have all allowed me time to work on my laptop and create, write, produce and stay on top of my business when everyone else appears to be sleeping, reading, or just doing nothing.
- To never falling ill or having any serious accidents or injuries (bar a dislocated finger) for the whole trip, all while drinking local water from taps and eating local cuisine.
- The incredible weather – sunshine, heat, and more sunshine that has followed me almost everywhere I have gone, coupled with the exciting stormy moments of lightening and downpours which I love
The last two weeks I have spent in Croatia. I fell in love with Zagreb and the peace and quiet of the city in summer when almost all its inhabitants head to the coast. It helped having History Professor Vjeran explain to me the entire reason Croatia and Croatians are the way they are. In fact within 5 minutes of getting off the train I knew more about this country than any other.
I played Frisbee, biked around, worked, wrote postcards, discovered and enjoyed. From this peace I headed to Croatia’s second largest city, Split which was the complete opposite. Filled with people my first memory was the large ship in the harbor with a huge budget/ low cost logo on its side. The bus station was heaving, the ferries were departing to everywhere. The city was alive with tourists.
Brac island was fun, especially so hanging out with Kyla who’s travel schedule just happened to co-incide with mine. We actually relaxed on the beach for one day (my first and only full day of doing this), played Frisbee in the water and taught some locals how to throw to their delight. We stayed in a room in someone’s house which always feels odd but is pretty common here.
We have both been really amazed Croatians who speak English, because they speak it so well with all the nuances of the western world. It is apparently because they watch TV and movies in English with subtitles and learn it that way. Especially Duje who had watched the entire series of Seinfeld 9 times over and cracked us up with his comments.
In return I learned to say hello, goodbye and pronounce thank you properly (no mean feat).
I also learned that Croatians generally end up living with their parents for a lot longer, late 20s and into their 30s even. This is largely because renting is expensive and buying a house is near on impossible, although right after the war it was highly encouraged and affordable so you’ll find a huge chunk of the population own a holiday home on the coast.
That also made more sense as to why so many young people make out on park benches and other places – because they don’t want to do it at home in front of their parents!
And when they say you should book ahead if you’re heading to the Adriatic Coast they mean it. I have never travelled in any other country – bar maybe some of Thailand in peak season, where everything is booked up. It makes having no fixed schedule or plan less easy to travel with.
I am definitely coming back to Croatia, next time on a yacht with friends, to spend more time on the beautiful island of Hvar which is just charming and lends itself to walking through the maze of tiny alleys, enjoying the classiness of the people, the lavender, the Venetian influence, the lights, the sunsets and the natural port that encourages phenomenal yachts and sailing ships to park so close to the heart of the Old Town.
Dubrovnik is also unique. The old town is entirely surrounded by city walls that act as a fortress to those outside. You can walk around this 2km perimeter and look out over the stunning blue hues of the ocean and the clear waters or back to the sandy coloured buildings with red brick roofs that fill the city space and every nook and cranny.
The streets were filled from morning to night with walking tours and tourist activities, cafes, drinking, museums and music. It was fascinating to spot the difference between the dressed up and stylish Italian women who posed for every photo and whined at their boyfriends who seemed to tune it out, compared to the British who were more relaxed and often looking pink, to the many Australians who were backpacking in groups to the French, Scandinavian and of course Croatian nationalities.
And now I’m heading back to Vancouver, but not for long. It seems this travelling has sparked a desire for more travel in my life.
I will look to visit Toronto and Montreal in late September, be in Las Vegas for two conferences in October and November and in between time possibly stay in LA. Then the major plan is to head to Buenos Aires to live and work for the winter months.
Right now there is a small posse of people I presented this idea to who are up for moving there for a month or so too. I figure if I am to keep moving all the time, the hardest thing is saying goodbye to friends and starting over again. So why not convince them to come along whenever possible ….
PS I really had not connected Dalmatian dogs coming from the Dalmatian Coast before.