Even in Croatia, a ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’

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The boys are disappointed that we are not in the United States to view today’s solar eclipse.

There’s no doubt that, if we were there, we’d be buying eclipse glasses, fashioning projectors out of cereal boxes and eating MoonPies or Oreos as we kept an eye on the sky.

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Instead, we have the windows flung open in Croatia, and we’ve been watching something else that could burn our eyes. There’s a smoky fire a few miles away in suburban Zadar that firefighters are battling with the help of planes.

And not too far away on the island of Hvar, close to where our visiting friends are touring today, there’s a wildfire being fueled by the wind.

Fires have been a problem this summer across Dalmatia. They’ve closed highways, displaced tourists, forced evacuations and left people scrambling to defend their homes and businesses.

Yet, a little bit of smoke is easy to overlook with the mountains and huge expanses of water all around us. Being an expat here, it’s easy to dismiss all of Croatia’s rough edges. I try to ride my bike past gritty Communist-era apartment buildings without really looking at them. I’d rather head to picturesque Old Town to look for architectural styles dating back to the Middle Ages.

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This is a land of contrasts. Sarge warned me not to hike off the trails here because there are still minefield warnings. The physical scars of war are not that noticeable here anymore, but it’s clear when you start talking to locals that there’s lingering opposition between the Croats and the Serbs that’s been around forever.

Our friends in town from the States want to know more about the war a quarter century ago and about all the history, warts and all. But it’s kind of like watching a solar eclipse. Isn’t it nice sometimes to blot out everything and focus on staring at something in awe?

Our favorite spots to show off to visitors have all revolved around water – and solar events like amazing sunsets.

With their American neighborhood friend in tow, our boys have jumped in the Adriatic at sunset, just off the steps of the Sea Organ. They’ve played the Croatian version of “Wipeout” at a beachside aquapark, and we’ve gone swimming by waterfalls at Krka National Park for the second time in a month.

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I won’t tire of this place and its natural wonders, even when a little smoke gets in my eyes.

 

No Liquids and No Gondoliers

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The post office here is not the friendliest place on Earth.

Of the handful of times I’ve been to Hrvatska Pošta, the service operated by the Republic of Croatia, I’ve tried to give it a second and third chance. Maybe it’s just my lack of knowledge of the language or of their process that’s the problem. Or maybe the level of customer service here is just a different standard. A less friendly standard. Sometimes even a harsh standard.

When you walk into the post office, it’s kind of like a deli counter where you have to take a number at an electronic kiosk. The screen is all in Croatian, and you get a different ticket if you’re mailing something than if you’re doing a money transfer or other services the post office provides. I’ve had to hold my phone up on my Google Translate app to figure it out what kind of ticket to select. People behind me have been a little impatient about that.

I’ve noticed that the concept of lines here barely exists. When we were boarding a bus at a Krka National Park last month, for example, it felt like we were in danger of being trampled. Even at some of the groceries, I’ve seen people crowd the cashiers and try to cut ahead if they have fewer items. I would imagine that’s why they have a strict line system at the post office.

But even when I thought it was my turn, the clerk said no. My ticket clearly said I was in the right line. There was no one behind me, and I thought maybe I selected the wrong kind of ticket. I gave the clerk a confused look and she finally let me proceed. I needed a box to package my items, and when she saw one of the things I wanted to mail, she said no. It was a bottle of tightly sealed olive oil, a prized good of this region. No, my parents will not be getting Istrian olive oil delivered. No liquids allowed.

I left a little frustrated, still wondering what I did wrong with the line system and how I could get around the mailing liquids issue, when I decided to do something more relaxing.

While Sarge and I had our coffee on the lanai this morning, I told him I wished I could find another old lady to sing to me, like the Nonna I never had. He told me to go find the guy with the rowboat who takes people from the car side of Zadar to the pedestrian-filled Old Town. So I did.

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I walked around the marina in search of the rower, what they refer to here as a “barkajoli.” I wanted it to be like Venice, where a gondolier might sing to me while we crossed the water. That was not to be today. My barkajoli was on his cell phone the whole time.

Still, it was a lovely jaunt that was more peaceful than the footbridge. The passenger beside me was friendly, spoke a little English, and let me know the charge for the service was only 5 Kuna (less than a dollar).

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As I write this, I’m in a café, where I could really use a glass of water. Cold tap water would be perfect, not all of this water “with gas.” But I’m going to have to stalk the waiter if I want a refill. Service here is different. You can order one cup of coffee and sit in a café all morning an no one will care that you are taking up a table.

Maybe being here will teach me to relax, take my time and not rush the check. Unless I’m in line at the post office. Then I’ll have to learn to push ahead and get my package in the mail.

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May Day Holiday at Krka National Park

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Today is a holiday in Croatia. It’s May Day. Since this is a mostly Catholic country, I thought it would be a religious celebration. When I was growing up in Catholic school, we always celebrated May Crowning at the beginning of May. It was a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we would carry flowers to the Mary grotto. One lucky student would get the honor of placing a crown of flowers on the Mary statue’s head.

When I lived in Hawaii, May Day was Lei Day, and it was a way to celebrate island culture and wear beautifully scented flowers.

Here, May Day is a public holiday more like Labor Day. It’s International Workers’ Day, and most businesses are closed. It also marks a feast day in the Catholic faith of St. Joseph, Mary’s husband, a carpenter and the patron saint of workers.

Sarge had the day off, the kids were off school, and I’m still on vacation from my job that is going to let me work remotely. So we decided to mark the holiday with a trip to Croatia’s Krka National Park, known for its seven waterfalls.

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We drove for about an hour along the coast, and the view was stunning. Croatia has more than a thousand islands dotting the Adriatic Sea. We saw billboards for the “Island of Love,” shaped like a heart. Aside from the beauty of the landscape, it also warmed my heart to see so many elderly people out in the towns walking around. These are some hearty people. I think I’ve seen only one wheelchair since we’ve been here and no electric scooters in the stores. Either older people are healthier than Americans, or those who can’t get around just stay home.

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Today, it looked like everyone was out with their whole families. The national park was packed. We saw lots of strollers and selfie sticks, grandparents out with their kin and even a group of nuns. Two older Italian women tried to ask me where I got a bottle of pear seltzer water. I wasn’t sure how to answer since they didn’t speak English. Sarge said I should have just said: “Supernova.” They have everything at the Supernova.

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But I’m pretty sure the Supernova and the vegetable markets are closed today, and we have nothing in the fridge for dinner. So it looks like we’re going out. We saw and smelled some pit-roasted pork stands on the way back from the park. We’re going to venture back out and follow our noses.

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