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the halfway point

Trogir and Split are the halfway point of this trip. This is officially where the Dalmation coast begins. Where North turns into South. This is also where the trip is halfway over. We’ve been tromping through foreign countries together for about a week and half now.

For me, the halfway point is a time of taking stock. This is when I start counting how many days are left and wondering whether I can stretch 3 days worth of underwear into 7 days without washing anything. This is when I wonder if that tickle in my throat is allergies or a cold. Or bird flu (or whatever the next great plague will be). This is where I decide I don’t need to shave my legs again because nobody is looking at them anyways except in this case,  my mother (and yes, she is judging me).

The halfway point is where we start having heated arguments about which direction the airport was in Zagreb. Who had the lamb in that place between Ljubljana and Rovinj. Whether using the the word “Mongoloid” is racist when uttered with a pure heart. A vicious “discussion” about the relative merits of watching college football vs Oprah threatens to end my parents’ 51 year marriage.

This is always a dangerous juncture in any vacation because it’s usually the time where horrible secrets are revealed (my niece likes German boy bands), dreams, expectations are shattered (George Clooney does not have a villa here) and the wounds inflicted earlier in the trip (or in life) become scabs to be picked at.

if you’re traveling with relatives, It’s also the point where you discover great truths about them that explain why your family is doomed to an endless cycle of dysfunction.

One raging disorder reveals itself (again) when we check into the Villa Sikeaa in Trogir. In every hotel so far, my mother has wanted OUR room. Even if the rooms are exactly alike, there’s something about our room that looks better to her. If it’s bigger she wants it, if it’s smaller, she wants it. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, It seems totally reflexive.  Not a day has gone by where my mother hasn’t sighed several times a day and exclaimed “your room is better”. Katherine and I decide to conduct an experiment.

The minute Mom makes the inevitable comment that she likes our room better (often entering the lobby upon arrival), we offer her our room. She takes it gratefully. After we’ve moved rooms and it becomes hers, she’s happy for about an hour. The next time she comes to our room, she looks around and sighs “your room is better.” I’m sure there are deep psychological implications in this story, but I’ll ignore it for now because it makes me laugh (In a hysterical, rocking back and forth, emotionally scarred kind of way.)

Trogir is a great in between place. It’s a medieval village (what a surprise!) and UNESCO World heritage site. The entire old town is smaller than the Lobby of the Empire State building and surrounded by a small canal. It’s packed with tiny shops, a church, ice cream vendors and restaurants. .

On one side of the old town is the market. It’s not as “pretty” as the market in Rovinj, but it has its charm. Here, they recycle old bottles to bottle their homemade grappa and other herbal concoctions. A smart shopper can get a Croatian farmers’ homemade berry and lavender grappa in a classic coke, Herbal Essensence, or Crisco bottle for the equivalent of 3 Euro. In my opinion, that kind of souvenier gives you more bang for your buck than a “Simpsons in Trogir” tee shirt.

On the other side of the old town is the small harbor (a two minute walk), guarded by an ancient stone fort. Our hotel is across the harbor (a 5 minute walk) and affords a great view of the old town. Gorgeous boats park in the tiny harbor. Our room has a birds eye view and I shop for potential husbands in the comfort of my hotel room during the hot midday hours. We’re in the south now, so everything and everyone has a golden glow.

There’s something about Trogir that isn’t conducive to cultivating negativity or wallowing in psychological wounds. The only time I come close to crossing over to the dark side in Trogir is at night when those loud motorbikes blast by our hotel. I spend an hour parked at the window with a big glass of water, waiting to douse the next offender. Thankfully, my attention deficit disorder prevents me from spending the entire night poised at the window in ready-to-splash position.

Split on the other hand, has meltdown written all over it. There’s always a palpable tension in our car when nearing a city, When we round the bend and see Split’s sprawling metropolis, the tension rises into what can only be described as a shrill escalating siren sound in my brain.

I try to drown it out by engaging in a little genial rhetorical chit-chat with myself. “So, this is where Diocletian decided to retire back in 300 AD. Probably a shrewd real estate investment. Highly desirable location. It was probably a lot nicer back then. Without all the communist era buildings, rigs and industrial crap.”

The further into Split we go, the more panicky I become. Maybe we should turn back now. We’ll NEVER get out of here.. I don’t even know who Diocletian was, why the hell do I need to see his goddamn palace? And just when I think Split can’t get any more horrifying, we find ourselves at the gates of the old town, where cars dare not go. Our hotel is in here somewhere.

The pros of staying in the old city (which in Split is everything within the walls of Diocletian’s place) is you get the place all to yourselves in the evenings when the tour groups have departed. The con is finding your hotel once you find the old city. And as we recently learned, medieval villages and roman palaces were not built for driving.

I decide this is a good place to abandon the car along with everything in it. I clamor out and immediately become entranced by some shiny object at a nearby market stall flanking the old city wall. Mom and Dad are calling me, but I am hypnotized by the bright shiny object. Must watch bright shiny object. Cannot get back in car. Will see you later at hotel. Must. watch. shiny. object.

While they’re watching the shiny object, I vanish behind the gates and into another world. Inside the walls, it’s like a fairy kingdom. Modern life coexists with 1800 year old ruins. Ice cream every two steps, . Blue water and sky peaking in through roman gates. Amazing ruins intermingled with fabulous boutiques!

There’s something about the old town waterfront that reminds me of Nice. The palm lined promenade. An air of grandeur tainted with a whiff of seediness. The ferry docks are right next to the harbor and the walls of the Palace, so the view is a more romantic if you blur your eyes a little bit.

At night the lighting in the old town is dramatic and some group is playing classical music near the entrance of the Palace. It’s not the least bit crowded. I can’t remember the last time I cursed a German. Since we’re staying inside the walls of the old city, we can ignore the rest of Split. We’re taking a ferry to the Island of Hvar tomorrow morning.

Try as I might, I’m not finding the angst here. I’m starting to wonder if I should do something to induce it, just to get it over with. But that wouldn’t be in keeping with my new “let life happen” philosophy and decide against it. I’m sure the meltdown will happen in it’s own good time.

Right now I’m perfectly happy sitting on the waterfront with my ice cream cone looking at a calm sea under a cloudless sky.

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