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It's been an interesting start to the new year with ups and downs that may have neutralized as February quietly rolls in.
My first two weeks were spent in a Port St. Lucie Airbnb with a wonderful couple who migrated from Cuba many decades ago. It felt like I was visiting the grandparents I never had. The first question was "Did you eat?," and while I had, I still sat down to a plate of red snapper with salad, and so it began. During my stay with this lovely couple, there was cafe cubano in the morning, fresh mangoes, and spanish rice with shrimp (bringing remembrances of my dad). I didn't just rent a room, I was part of the family, and enjoyed hours in the early morning or evening sharing stories.
Incorporated in 1961, Port St. Lucie is suburbia -- it has no downtown and is 20 minutes from the beach -- but it's well-planned with sidewalks, bike lanes, parks on the canals and rivers, and a great library! As expected in January, the weather was up and down with cool and wet days intermingled with beach temps; the main reason I chose a bed over my tent this month.
It was during this visit, however, that I had my third car stalling incident; something I thought was a fluke until now. The first, in Maryland, I attributed to the cold morning weather; the second, in South Florida, to a loose battery terminal, but now? This oddity has been appearing every 3-4 weeks, so I started to worry, and moved it to the top of the list.
Two weeks of camping along the St. Lucie River in Stuart filled the remainder of January. It's a quiet, scenic spot that's a favorite of mine with just a few tents, a dozen RVs, and a few boats. Yet, reality kept getting in the way of my escape. Did you know that when you ask five auto "experts" a question, you get five different answers, and a price range of $59 - $1,660? I went with the guy who offered an affordable, feasible solution, and honestly said, "it might have to get worse before we figure it out".
The second half of January was two weeks of swearing that mercury must be in retrograde (but it wasn't!). Besides the auto worry (I live in my car!), my bike cables frayed, my air mattress blew at 4 am, and the weather went from 81 on a Sunday to 34 three days later. Oh yes, it was a bit cool getting out of my sleeping bag when mother nature called that morning! Suffice to say that my mood was also up and down.
I'm now staying in one place for February, and Monday, the 10th marks one month since my car has stalled. Do send me positive karma.
December has been a very long month that began with festivities, but ended after many exhausting days. Personally, I've been pushing my body and mind to reach my cycling and reading goals for the year (yes, I can!). However, a friend's unforeseen heart procedure on Christmas Eve made for a very stressful and demanding final week. In the end, all seems good.
So, 2020 has begun and I'm on task, but first I must take a look at my 2019 experiences before jumping into the new decade. As has been my pattern these past few years, the winter began with a bit of insanity in southern Florida, but ended with a series of enjoyable reunions in the northern part of the state. I then rolled into Greenville, South Carolina for a month-long reality check, and Mount Airy, North Carolina for a taste of life in Mayberry.
Unfortunately, May brought great sadness with the passing of my sister and a month-long visit with family. A brief retreat to the mountains of New Hampshire helped, as well as a month of rest and rejuvenation in Rothesay, New Brunswick. From here, it was a special summer of camping along the Acadian Coast and reconnecting with my roots.
A stop in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina dropped me back into Florida in time for an approaching cat 5 hurricane, but my guardian angels are still with me, so I stepped onto the plane, as planned, for a glorious five weeks in Croatia. Five is my lucky number! The year closed with reunions in Maryland, South Carolina and Florida, and yes, here we go again.
I read an interesting novel at year's end where the character would circumstantially ask, "When you were a little girl, madam, was this the woman you dreamed of becoming?" As I ponder 2020 this seems like a very good question to ask, and now that I've returned to solo mode, I may actually find an answer.
I don't plan to settle in place in 2020, though it's obvious that I'm staying in place longer. It feels like I'm living life in seasons rather than weeks now. The first quarter of this new year will certainly be spent in Florida as I must stay warm, but I'm plotting already as I hope to enjoy a bike tour this year, experience a trip to Portugal and maybe Spain, do a writing retreat, and work a political campaign. Oh so much to do in this life!
Since my return flight is from Split, I opt to take the local bus from Dubrovnik north along the coastal route -- a 4.5 hour trip that is both scenic, and a learning experience. Not only do I discover places like the "Makarska Riviera" which is gorgeous, but I also spend time in Bosnia. Seriously, I'd forgotten that Bosnia has a few kilometers of coastline that require a passport check It's a scenic ride and my ultimate destination is just north of Split to the islands of Trogir and Ciovo.
When I arrive at Hostel Marina Trogir, Rosa (a WorkAway volunteer from Germany!) is there to greet me, and I enjoy pasta and wine with a very friendly German family who are setting sail in the morning. Breakfast is social with Ollie & Angela, the owners (also German), a quiet gent from Slovenia, and a gal from Russia. When I return that day from a long walk and a quick swim in the sea, I'm the only guest for two nights, but I'm okay having my own apartment at the marina! I cross the bridge from Ciovo to Trogir and play tourist, eat fig gelato, shop for good food, discover fig brandy, and sleep well. Yes, I'm getting fig crazy. With a bit of a hangover the next morning, it's easy to spend a few hours on the backside of Ciovo lounging by the sea with a book, taking a short nap, and enjoying a swim. I've perfected my practice of "fjaca" just as I'm preparing to leave Croatia!
With the exception of a day trip north to Krka National Park, I'm moving slowly and enjoying my final few days here on the food I'll miss, the relaxing atmosphere by the sea, a little bit of tourism, and in the final 48 hours, much conversation. Two days before my departure, Romain arrives from France for a little R&R, and while we are an unlikely pair (in age, marital status, and who knows what), we hit it off and spend hours in conversation over coffee and wine. It's wonderful quality time (but we never take a photo!) and hopefully, we will meet again in the USA? in Europe?
My last morning, I roll my luggage from the marina to the local bus station at 8 am and take the $2 local to the Split airport. As I step off, the driver smiles and wishes me safe travels. I guess it's time to go home.
The ferry ride to Dubrovnik is my longest to date - a two-hour trip - and every seat is taken. This should have been a sign that I was heading to a busy spot, but I was still lulled by my weeks in the islands. Upon arrival, this city of just 43,000 residents feels a bit overwhelming. From the port, I do the 30-minute uphill walk toward my Airbnb, but stop two Croatians and an American on the way to ensure I'm heading in the right direction. It's hot, and I'm dying to rid myself of luggage.
My first impression of the apartment is "generic cinder block" but there's a view of the sea just across the street, and a wonderful little pekara right next door. God, I'm getting spoiled! Then, much to my surprise, I'm greeted by Ina (Katerina), my 86 year old host who gives me the tour and an icy sweet tea. It's all a welcomed surprise.
I'm in Dubrovnik for just 4 nights so it's chop-chop and off to Old Town to check out the scene. I'm happy to be here in early October when it's late season, as 4+ million tourists visit Dubrovnik annually. After being on the islands, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the number of people, the hubbub, and the push at the Info Center to buy the 250 kuna Dubrovnik Card so I can do what all the other sheep do! I choose to ignore it all until tomorrow, grab a giant slice of pizza, and go watch the sunset by the sea!
My first full day starts off right with a Turkish coffee & biscuits on the veranda with a view, and an hour-long conversation with Ina. This becomes our morning ritual, and the most coveted time of my days here.
Since I spent last evening doing my homework, it's time to begin hiking to the top of Mount Srd, a low mountain just behind the walled city. At the top is a fort built by the French in 1810, and a white cross of Brac stone erected in 1935 as a celebration of 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus. Of course, you can take a cable car up as the view is a tourist attraction, so I'm stunned at the number of people in pose mode when I arrive. Yet, I don't care, because the hike up is scenic, and the view of the walled city and the islands is stunning.
With gelato in hand, I return to Old Town and buy the Museum Pass to 9 marvelous museums, galleries, and studios for less than $20 US. My two full days of Old Town tourism are filled, starting with the House of Marin Drzic, one of the greatest Croatian writers (c. 16th century), and an all around interesting character. From here, it's museums and galleries until my brain is on overload, and by the end of Day 2, I'm sitting in St. Blaise Church simply enjoying the quiet. Sunset by the sea with a salad and a burek feels just right.
The last day begins with a special two hours with Ina, Turkish coffee, fig palacinka, and photos. There is no better way to learn about a place than listening to the life stories of an 86 year old woman who has lived here her entire life; in fact, 64 years in this same apartment I'm now sharing. How lucky am I?
With that start, I opt to see the other side of Dubrovnik, and walk for a few hours to Lapad, a lively local area, and Babin Kuk, a secluded neighborhood with a view to the open sea. I picnic, and my mind is wandering to the morning as I'll be heading to my final destination in Croatia.
It's a sincere 'thank you' and a fond farewell to Ina, with a promise to return for her 90th birthday celebration.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover