The legend of the Bura Wind

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There’s something people talk about here as if it’s a human entity: the Bura Wind.

In Croatia, it’s a fierce force, just like the Boreas character from Greek mythology. The mythological story goes that Boreas was the god of the north wind and of winter. He fell in love with the Athenian princess Orithyia. But when charm got him nowhere, he became angry, kidnapped her and made her his wife. A real charmer, that Boreas.

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Even today, the Bura Wind (also known as Bora) can be violent, sometimes bringing gale force that can close highways, keep sailors and ferries at harbor, rip trees from their soil and blow tiles from rooftops.

This dry northern wind also has a good side. It can blow away clouds. My landlord tells me the Bura Wind can be cleansing. I tried to explain (in my English/Croatian/pantomime) that we were beginning to see mold inside on the concrete walls on north side of the house, and I was using bleach to clean it. He told me the Bura Wind would solve the problem. He said I must wait for the dry wind to come so I can air out the apartment, but I must be careful not to open windows on a cloudy day and bring in too much draft (propuh). Forget dehumidifiers or cleaning products, he seemed to be saying. Leave it to the wind.

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The old women who sell cheese at the market say the Bura Wind is good for flavor. It brings sea air to the grass that sheep graze on and saltiness to the cheese. But it’s not just for cheese, they say. It’s also essential for Dalmatian dry-cured prosciutto (pršut). The market women credit the wind for bringing the region these delicacies.

They also talk of the Bura Wind being light and dark. Everyone loves the light one that brings clear skies. The dark one brings rain and clouds. Bura also has an opposite, “Jugo,” which blows from the sea to the land and just brings junk. They wait for a light Bura day to hang their laundry.

Their old wives’ tales don’t stop there. This Bura Wind must help shopkeepers sell a lot of scarves. The women here don’t expose the backs of their necks to the wind for fear of getting sick. I remember buying scarves on a trip to Europe years ago, and I wondered if they would be out of fashion. I’ve discovered scarves are not a trend here. They are a way of life when the temperature dips.

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There’s no Bura Wind today in our Zadar region of Croatia. It’s chilly, cloudy and rainy with a light breeze from the south-southeast. It’s not quite the southwesterly “junk” air, but it’s close. Today’s pretty dreary. We might get a few Bura gusts tomorrow.

With any luck, that fierce Boreas will clear out the clouds. Just like Old Man Winter, Father Frost or Jack Frost, the Bura Wind is bound to make an appearance any day now. He’ll bite our noses and give us a chill, and we’ll know that winter is coming.

 

 

Making memories on a bus tour

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We had nicknames for some of the people on the bus. There was Charlie Sheen and Mr. Magoo, the dad from “The Goldbergs,” the Vegas Ladies, the Park Ranger from Portland and The Millennials.

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I’m not sure what they called us.

On our bus tour of Eastern Europe, my mom, two aunts and I were a family pack on a girls’ trip. Our acquaintances probably called me “the blogger” and my mom “the retired English teacher.” One of my aunts picked up the handle “Delta” (where she worked before she retired). We had to call my other aunt “Mary” in public, instead of her nickname since childhood, “Beaner.” It wasn’t until later in life that she and the rest of my family realized some people took offense to her name as derogatory slang, and it wouldn’t be cool to yell, “Hey, Beaner!” across a crowded airport. Now, only her closest friends are allowed to call her that.

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If it hadn’t been for my mom and aunts, I probably wouldn’t have considered taking a bus tour through Croatia and Slovenia with stops along the way in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. I’ve always been more of a do-it-yourself kind of traveler who prefers taking in the sights with a group of four rather than 40.

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But it came down to price. For less than $150 per day (not much more than airfare alone would have cost my family to come and see me in Croatia), they got a package deal from Gate 1 Travel that included airfare from New York, nine nights of accommodations at nice hotels, more than a dozen meals and breakfasts, an English-speaking tour manager and local guides.

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What I learned on my first bus tour is that it’s an efficient way to explore foreign cities. You don’t have to do all of the research yourself, and you can’t beat the hotel buying power of a tour company.

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We started off in Venice, where my mom and one of my aunts flew in. They spent the week visiting with my family. Then in Croatia, we spent two nights in Opatija, one night in Split, three nights in Dubrovnik and one night in Zagreb. In Slovenia, we spent two nights in Bled. We also took some side trips to places such as Rovinj, Pula and Montenegro. It would have been tough to cover that much territory and stay in resorts for that price on our own.

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The cons of bus tours? Sitting next to Mr. Magoo at dinner, getting trapped in a couple of authentic tourist traps, being rushed through some cities and not being able to shake the feeling of being on a school field trip.

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We traveled with a group of mainly retired Americans. That changed the experience from the rest of my stay here – full of months when I barely heard any other American voices. On weekend trips with my husband and kids, we have been able to see a little more of the charm of small towns here and the way people live. We’ve also tried to communicate with the locals in at least a little bit of their own language. You lose that traveling with a big group that already speaks your language.

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For much of the trip, my mom was disappointed with the food. For months, I’d been talking up the seafood of the Adriatic, the Mediterranean and Italian dishes and the fruit stands and vegetable markets. I’m not sure a bus tour makes for the best dining experiences. Judging a country’s food by bus tour buffets is kind of like judging American cuisine by only the restaurants that can handle being bombarded by a bus crowd.

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Overall, Gate 1 delivered on its tagline to show us “more of the world for less.” We saw the highlights of multiple cities without having to worry about the details.

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Even though I had been to some of the cities before, local guides stood out in places like Pula, which has one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world, and in Split, where a guide took us underground to see the cellars of Diocletian’s Palace. We also walked the ancient city walls above Dubrovnik on a fall day when most of the tourists had already left, and the rooftop views were fantastic.

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We made memories we’ll talk about for years to come.

I woke up this morning to see a Facebook message from my Aunt Beaner with a mesmerizing little video about ways to fold napkins. I had to laugh because it made me think of the fancy folded napkin she wore like a paper cap when we were joking around during one of our dinner outings.

Maybe at some holiday gathering years from now, there will be napkin caps all around and we’ll play that hat game we learned at a bus tour dinner. Just like that time in Slovenia.

Europe with kids, ain’t it grand?

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“I don’t know why everybody says Europe is so beautiful,” my youngest complained today as we walked our bikes through a crowded street of Old Town Zadar, Croatia, trying to avoid running into tourists. “Look at all the cracks on the stones!”

“Do you know how old those stones are?” I said. I don’t know how old those stones are. Old. Very old.

I’ve spent half the summer defending Very Old Europe to my kids and explaining why they should appreciate their surroundings as much as going to roller coasters and water parks. Some days, I lose the battle.

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Today, I promised them that after I finished my work, we’d go somewhere. My oldest, “A,” wanted to go to a history museum, which naturally meant his brother, “W,” wanted to stay home.

“Why do we have to go somewhere that seems like school?” he said. “It’s summer!”

Sometimes, I think my kids have a secret pact. If one wants to do something, the other must protest. I run the spectrum of wanting to keep them from being spoiled brats to wanting to keep them content in a country that is not their own.

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Today’s destination was the Archeological Museum. Lots of old, cracked things. “W” was not impressed. I kept having to stop and say nagging, motherly things to him, like, “Don’t sit on the tomb!”

“A” is more of a history buff who likes lingering on past lives. We walked around the museum talking about the people who must have made the objects we saw. “W” sped past us looking for interactive exhibits that haven’t arrived in this country just yet.

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If the best education is not learned in the classroom, I hope all of this “old stuff” is rubbing off on both kids. It’s kind of like taking them to an antique store and wanting them notice more than a dusty collection of stuff. Not everything comes with an app or video or a climbing ropes course like the children’s museum back home.

If one child tours museums looking miserable, disinterested and bored, will he still take it in by osmosis? Or do the teenage years last way beyond the teenage years? (He’s only 10).

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I keep having to remind myself that my kids are not mini adults. They’re just kids. Their travel experience is not supposed to be like mine.

We will not look at cracks in cobblestones in the same way. And I need to be fine with that.

 

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Pounding the Marble Pavement

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Sarge’s company rented him a stick-shift car, and I don’t know how to drive it yet. Being on foot is my favorite kind of exercise anyway, so I don’t mind walking. And I’m noticing things I would never see from the driver’s seat.

We went to dinner a couple of nights ago at Gricko Grill, a tiny owner-run spot where we had simple grilled meats wrapped in pita bread and served with raw onions. We all gave it rave reviews. On the walk home, we noticed a wedding party driving the other way, kind of like a New Orleans-style funeral parade. The party went by waving flags, singing, honking and shouting as they passed. We smiled, waved and shouted back.

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My favorite place to walk so far is just a mile from our house in Old Town, an ancient area that spent several centuries under Venetian rule. It reminds me of Italy, with its Forum, Roman ruins, churches, shops and cafes. One of the most remarkable things about Old Town Zadar is that it’s paved in marble that’s almost slippery enough to skate across, polished by millions of feet over the centuries.

That’s not the only mesmerizing thing about the city. There’s a Sea Organ built into the marble steps along the Adriatic Sea that plays haunting piped music as the waves lap against the steps. And nearby, there’s a modern Greeting to the Sun with glass plates formed in a circle that collect solar energy for a light show at night. We were there on a chilly and windy afternoon, so we sat on the solar panels to warm up and people watch.

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For dinner, we went somewhere that’s already becoming one of Sarge’s favorites – Kobona Bonaca – a place where he dined alone when he first arrived in town. The restaurant is tucked behind the Sea Organ by a church square.

“I tried to open the door and it was locked,” Sarge said of his first experience there. “I turned around to leave and the door opened. It was the owner. He put his hands in his pockets and said, ‘Do you have jingle lingle?’ I said, ‘Yes, I have jingle lingle!’ He said, ‘Then you can come in!’ ”

Then he poured Sarge a drink on the house, served him braised lamb and talked about America, Croatia’s civil war in the 1990s and things they had in common, like the fact that they both spent time living in Florida.

The owner remembered Sarge right away when we walked in. He sat us in a sunny spot at a heavy wooden table and brought us drinks, then something extra – a shot of cherry liqueur. The drink is one of the city’s specialties, and the owner said his friend distilled it himself from the Maraska cherries grown in this region. I let the kids take a sip. They said it tasted like cough drops. To me, it was more like a sweet cherry dessert, like a brandy.

By the time dinner was over, we went back to the end of the peninsula by the Sea Organ in time for the sunset. We had read that legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock once said that Zadar had “the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, in Florida, applauded at every evening.”

Sarge used to live in Florida, and then we both lived in Hawaii, and we’ve seen some amazing sunsets. Last night’s was a pretty good one.

We watched it with our feet hanging over the sea wall. And with that, young W kicked his leg and accidentally sent his Adidas sneaker flying into the Adriatic. Sarge said his shoe will probably make it to Italy before W does.

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Not All Who Wander Are Lost. Except Us.

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Maybe not all who wander are lost. But I sure tried hard to get us there.

My first adventure with the boys was yesterday, our first full day in Croatia, when I woke them from their jet-lagged sleep to go for a walk to find their school. It was supposed to take 20 minutes. I thought we’d get there fine following Google Maps, but we missed a turn and took the long way around a seaside neighborhood where nothing looked familiar.

Many of the houses look alike here, pastel-colored homes with Terracotta roof tiles and laundry hanging out to dry. Not much was getting dry yesterday. Especially us. We tried to stop and buy umbrellas but couldn’t find any, so we took cover at a sports arena until we got our bearings and found the school an hour and a half after we set off for it.

Today, we were better prepared. Sarge drove us on the route last night, so we knew where we were going. We were armed with umbrellas, and we made it there in record time.

The front door of the school was already open when we got there.

“We can just walk right in?” 11-year-old A asked.

Yes, unlike schools in America, there’s no feeling that schools here are on lockdown. The principal explained that most families from the United States are surprised how much freedom the students have to walk around school grounds. She assured me the boys would be safe.

The school is an international one, where the boys will learn and take tests in English. They’ll also learn some Croatian and Italian. A&W are in fourth and fifth grades, and they each have one other boy in their grade from America. A few other students are Australian and also started at the school knowing no Croatian.

We stopped in W’s classroom first, where the children were having recess. They greeted him in English and asked him to stay and play.

“We like to play war games,” said one of the tallest of the bunch, a cherub-faced boy of about 10 who looked at us with a big grin.

“That’s perfect!” W said, and he let me leave him with the group.

Then we went to A’s fifth grade, a smaller class of all boys – about six of them. The teacher invited him to join the lesson, and by the time I returned from talking to the principal, A was paired up with the other American boy and had borrowed a pencil and a workbook.

A&W weren’t scheduled to start school until next week, but the principal asked if they wanted to stay, and they did. I’m already relieved that they may be making their first friends right now.

The sun came out on my way home, and I stopped to smell the roses.

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