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what kind of paradise is this?

One of the recurring themes in all the articles and books I’ve read on Croatia and Slovenia is that it’s a “foodie paradise.”

Now correct me if I’m wrong, but in order to qualify as a foodie paradise, don’t you have to achieve total dining fulfillment at least 4 times a week?

I’m eating at the same places Travel and Leisure, Fodors, Lonely Planet and the New York Times are waxing poetic about, and I’m just not tasting the poetry. No paroxysms of sublime pleasure wafting over my tongue. Maybe I need to adjust my prozac doseage.

Are these travel writers just blissed out by the environment? Are they that starved for good food? Or do they just read the same damn articles and travel guides we do and regurgitate them back to us? Have they even BEEN here?

The food is good, granted. Seafood is the main lure and it’s all fresh. Really, really fresh. In Rovinj, to inaugurate the seafood portion of the trip, we order the mixed seafood appetizer. When I finally summon the courage to try the “tartuffo” (a clam like item), I raise my fork to it and the blob visibly recoils. My niece and I respond by audibly recoiling. Our screams echo through Rovinj. That’s a little too fresh for my tastes.

There are only two times during the 16 day trip I rolled my eyes back in orgasmic bliss while eating something. One was the Calamari at Lokanda Fontana in Trogir. And the other was the fried rocket (arugula) at Sesame near the Hilton in Dubrovnik — it’s the only time I’ve ever seen fried rocket on a menu and now I crave it. If they sold it in grocery stores and fast food places, it would be my favorite snack.

My first sour cream and onion Pringle in Porec also rocked my world, but I’m told Pringles is not a strictly Croatian delicacy.

We also had a really great dinner at Hanibal in Hvartown and a terrific lunch in Cavtat at Leut on the waterfront past the little market.

But a couple of really good meals does not warrant all the foodie paradise blather I’ve been seeing, I’m sorry.

Now, pitch me an article about it being an ice cream paradise and I’m 100% behind you (that’s 124% with butterfat). I’m not sure what it is about the ice cream in this part of the world. The huge fluffy mountains in pretty colors, the endless assortment, the fact none of it is made by a chain so no two “berry jubilees” are alike. You eat it because it’s there. Soon it’s an integral part of your vacation.I guess you could say ice cream has been my significant other on this trip. Through thick and thin, darkness and light, it’s been there for me. Soothing me when I need solace, and heightening my joy during moments of happiness. And even with ice cream, it turns out I’m a fickle, faithless whore.

Up until now, I’ve always been pretty monogamous to chocolate. But somewhere between Ljubjuna and Rovinj, maybe it because it’s was hot, I ordered forest berry. After that, there was no turning back. There is no berry on the continent that I haven’t savored in all it’s rich creamery glory. I intersperse the berry flavors with an occassional Snickers, black forest, banana split, german chocolate, pistachio, mandarin, Almond Joy, tiramisu, macaroon just to keep things interesting. I don’t know whether I’ll go back to chocolate when I get back, but I do know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t try the cinnamon.

I suppose if we consider ice cream cones a square meal, I might be able to accept the title “foodie paradise.” I guess it’s not too much of a stretch when you consider that a cone has dairy and grain (in the cone) and if you add some nuts and a fruit flavor, you’ve got the protein and fruit and veggie part of the food pyramid covered. I’ve long considered a scoop of chunky monkey an excellent well-rounded breakfast.

I’m not denying that Croatia is paradise. It definitely is. It’s a paradise for people who like a little history mixed in with their stunning natural scenery and beaches. It’s paradise for people who love to travel but hate tourists. And for people who have to plan birthday vacations for three generations of family to enjoy, it’s as close as you’re going to get to paradise. I happen to believe the place is magical. It would have to be. I just spent 16 days here with three generations of family and it only aged me a year.

the lavender fields of hvar

I’ve been wanting to go to Hvar ever since I knew there was a Hvar. I think the clincher was “the island is covered in lavender fields which scents the air”.

I’m not an island person, but I’m a sucker for a good smell. And lavender has all these amazing properties, aromatherapeutically speaking. It picks you up and calms you down. It’s not only a disinfectant and repels bugs, it also soothes, balances and restores the spirit. It even cures headaches when rubbed on temples and nausea when rubbed onto the fifth chakra (which is the throat…or Achilles tendon, I just rub it on both to be sure). Just think how great it’ll be to be naturally surrounded by it. It sounds like the herbal good smelling therapeutic equivalent of a speedball or Irish coffee.

Hvar itself is an emerald green island under aquamarine skies surrounded by a sapphire sea (in case anyone wants to commemorate the trip in jewelry).

The port in Starigrad looks like a big skating rink, which makes me nervous right off the bat. We aren’t staying in the old town here, so we should be able to find our hotel easily. Unless all the buildings look like skating rinks.

It’s about an hour and a half boat ride from Split to Starigrad, Hvar. And a winding 20 minute drive from Starigrad to Hvar town.

I become downright jittery when the arrow pointing the direction of our hotel, the Podstine, indicates it has only one star. The car trembles with the force of my mother’s shudders.

We pull over so we can regroup from the shock. Our eyes are hollow with horror as we imagine the implications.

Finally Dad breaks the silence and posits tightly, that ”at 200 a night, it can’t be one star. It must be a mistake” Yeah. I rejoin, feebly, saving my strength to break the waves of queasiness lashing at me. I unroll the car window desperately, remembering that the Lavender air should help sooth my nausea. I don’t smell the lavender. The fields must be further inland.

Up until now, I’ve been using the bottle of lavender essential oil strictly for medicinal purposes: repelling bugs, swabbing pink spots on cheeks. But right about now I really need a balancing, soothing whiff. I rub a dab into my temples and breath deeply.

The Podstine is modern and blends in with the stone cliffs overlooking the Adriatic From the lobby off the tiny road.  The hotel is built down, into the rocks, rather than on top of them. The lobby is on the top floor. So are our rooms. Nice, big, bright, clean rooms. With big balconies and sea views. Downstairs there’s a restaurant and café with tables on the deck. And a lower deck for lounging by the side of the world’s most gorgeous swimming pool—the Adriatic, It’s very nice.

Katherine on balcony of podstine hotel, relieved.

That’s one more potential disaster averted.

It’s a pleasant 20 minute walk from the Podstine into Hvar Town, yes, another medieval village. We chose not to stay in the Old town this time because I’d seen Hvar Town on an episode of “Wild on” and decided it would be good to sleep at a safe distance. A good choice since at 3 in the morning you can still hear music blaring from the direction of Hvar town on the hotel balcony.

But Hvar town is cool with the big fortress on the hill above the small harbor. And of course, the little shops. And sometimes the square becomes so happening, it doesn’t seem like the small town can handle it. Like the night they had Miss Croatian Universe Pageant. We catch a part of it on the way back from dinner one night. Katherine becomes offended by and wanders back to the hotel ahead of us. After the Croatian Stephen Tyler performance, the pageant continues. We watch until mom becomes offended that Dad is enjoying it.

Hvar is a good place to read, swim, and wander medieval streets and shops, eat ice cream, nap. But it’s so pretty, you’ll want to nap with your eyes open.

But there is one problem: the air is NOT scented with lavender. Apparently some big fire destroyed all the lavender fields on this side of the island three years ago.

This could be a problem because I was counting on that lavender scent and its soothing properties.

Now you may wonder why I need to be soothed. Hasn’t everything gone remarkably well? Even my biggest concern (plitvice lodging) has turned out happily. Hvar is blissful, what the heck am I so stressed out about?

Perhaps you don’t understand the anxiety involved in waiting for something to go wrong You know it will. It’s only a matter of time. In fact, by your schedule, things should have gone to shit at least twice by now. This is unsettling. You don’t want to be caught off guard. God forbid you should be too happy and comfortable when it happens. And you can’t help thinking that the longer you have to wait for something to go wrong, the worse that something will be.

Mom swimming in the Adriatic

My family feels it too. And the stress of having nothing major to complain about shows itself in little ways.

My dad simmers with anger because the hotel waiter serves us too much food.

My mother sighs and sadly reflects that my grilled lobster looks better than her grilled lobster, Katherine announces that if she sees another grilled fish she’ll puke. I splash lavender oil on all seven chakras.

When my elbow hits the knob that adjusts the water temperature in the shower, giving me an unwelcome blast of cold water,  I curse god’s tyranny and shower myself in lavender oil.

Sure, we may look rested, tan, well fed and healthy, but we are obviously at the ends of our ropes. And we reek of lavender.

When I get to the check out desk with my luggage, my dad and the guy with a cold sore are conspiring. If we leave now, drive an hour and a half to the other ferry port, we can catch the 11:30 ferry on the other side of the Island that takes us to Drvenek which is only a half hour ferry ride and we’ll end up an hour and a half closer to Dubrovnik than if we ferry back to Split and drive from there as originally planned. It’ll save a lot of time. But we have to go now. There are too many numbers in this plan for my little brain to process.

I ignore the nagging sense of foreboding. There’s something about the math here that isn’t adding up. But I’m a mathematical moron, so I defer to the wisdom of my dad and cold sore guy. Cold sore guy must know more about getting around Croatia than I do. When I look at the map, it almost makes sense. And maybe we’ll see some lavender fields.

We race the island’s narrow winding roads to catch the ferry. Well, my mother is driving, so we race in a safe, leisurely manner. We elected mom to drive the narrow, windy roads. figuring she’s going to be clutching, steering and pumping the breaks no matter who is driving. So we might has well let her actually drive. We’re hoping this will give her a sense of control. On this outing she vacillates between taunting the asshole on her tail to pass her or cursing the old goat in front of her who is driving too slow.

We’re in the middle of nowhere, Hvar (who knew a little Island could be so big?) By now it’s only an hour until the ferry leaves. We’re supposed to be there an hour early and god knows how far the damn ferry port is from here. From every point we see a bay that “must be it.” that isn’t.

Despite the fact I’m sweating lavender, I open the bottle for a few more drops. And at this moment, the car screeches to a halt followed by thud and impact. I pull my neck out trying to catch the lavender oil bottle which has been jolted from my hands.

Everyone in the car is checking their most valuable possession to make sure it’s okay. Mom is checking her lipstick. Dad is patting his Cal Bears fall football schedule. Katherine is checking her face and boobs. And I’m grieving my last drops of lavender which are now a part of the floor mat.

I don’t know whose fault the accident was. I was too busy trying not to be car sick at the time to notice.

The Bosnian guy who slammed into us is nice and concerned. But his wife sickens me. She’s so busy protecting her own ass from possible litigation, she can’t see my suffering. Here I am with an empty lavender bottle and a stiff neck and she’s blithely saying “at least everyone is okay.” Then she tries to imply that my stiff neck and lost lavender are the result of my own negligence because I wasn’t wearing my seat belt. But I was. Jesus, whatever happened to humanity and compassion? My neck feels pretty much better. So feeling fairly certain I won’t be able to sue her for making me an invalid, I can pretend to have lost movement of my entire lower body whenever she looks at me.

We take care of the business and continue to the ferry, knowing deep in our souls that we’re screwed. The feeling is confirmed when we turn a corner, expecting to see the harbor ahead and being faced with a long narrow highway of bumper to bumper cars, all waiting to get on the 25 car ferry.

Judging by our count, we’ll have to wait for two more ferries to get on. The third ferry today departs at 6:30PM. It’s 11;30 AM and the perfect storm has just converged.

Rage short circuits my brain. I’m quiet, but I know sparks are flying all over the car. I want to destroy everyone responsible for this. Starting with the guy with the cold sore guy back at the hotel. Do we have time to drive back, torture him thoroughly and still catch the later 4;30 ferry from Starigrad? The thought makes me carsick. My neck hurts. This is all THEIR fault. Everyone elses. Nobody appreciates me. I’m an idiot. I should never have listened to dad and the guy with the cold sore. I’ll probably GET a cold sore. I’ll need lavender for that cold sore I’m going to get and now I’m out. And mom and dad and Katherine are breathing what little is left of MY scented air! It’s so typically thoughtless. We’re stuck here in the car. For six hours. But nobody stops to think that maybe I NEED that air? Jeez, do I have to actually sit here for 6 hours with these barbarians? Katherine sighs. I glare at her and she sighs again. A big sigh. That’s unnecessary waste of my scented air. MOM! Katherine is pigging my air. Like they care. They’ve always liked Katherine better than me. Why? Why am I forced to endure being stuck on the tip of this godforsaken island, with nothing to do except check out some goddamn lavender fields?

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