Wednesday, August 18, 2010


You know you’re in good hands when your pizza comes accompanied with a bottle of ketchup and hot sauce. Welcome. To. Croatia. A place that sits on the Eastern side of the Adriatic Sea, across from Italy. A place with more shoe stores per capita in the city of Split, than any other city in the world. A place of hedonism and history. A place where I decided, somewhat impulsively, that I had to see –Alone.

I’ve traveled on my own plenty, but as far as vacationing alone, I was a virgin. I had considered it an achievement when I once saw a movie by myself at Irvine Spectrum (And if I told you that it was a real movie (The Express), and not your standard chick-flick, you’d agree it was an achievement as well). The thing is, I like people just as much as the next extrovert. I enjoy company. Conversation. Sharing experiences with friends to laugh about later. And because I’ve never had problems persuading people to be in my company, it’s a fair assumption that people like me back. But here’s the thing about being around others: There needs to be balance; you know, some downtime.

After six months of living under someone else’s roof; after 26 weeks of being around kids and a family larger and louder than my own; after one-hundred and eighty-something days of someone always wanting to accompany me without any downtime, I found that solitude was banging at my door. So I answered.

The plan was this: Fly into the city of Split. Stay there three days. Island hop the rest and fly out of Dubrovnik. Days of Travel: 10

I land and I immediately loved Croatia. Aside from Ryan Reynolds, my diamond ring and those incredibly overpriced black stilettos I saw last week, Croatia is undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Roman ruins, medieval architecture and a buzzing atmosphere, all situated on the shore of some of the most stunning unspoiled beaches in Europe. The history of Croatia runs deep as this country has only encountered peace, free from war and violence, for the last fifteen or so years. There’s also something about the fact that my hostel is to be found within the Diocletian Palace, one of the most impressive Roman monuments that is concealed from the rest of the city, which makes this place even more alluring.

I’m escorted by a friendly native to my hostel and drop my luggage off. I then spend my first day of solitude exploring the fortress that is the Diocletian Palace, also known as the Old Town of Split. I walk up the alleys and down through the piazzas. I have no direction. I walk left. I turn right. I’m sure I’ve circled the same area several times. I don’t care. I have no one to tell me otherwise. I browse through the open-air market, stopping to admire the array of local products. I stop for a cafĂ©. I take my time. I take pictures. I buy a cheap magenta-colored beach towel and I spend the rest of the afternoon perched on the rocky cove with my nose in a book as the sun dissolves my skin's paleness. I know, my life is rough.

I come to the primary conclusion that solitude can be quite therapeutic. Okay, yes, I do encounter what we’ll go ahead and call first-day jitters accompanied by anxiety about being on my own and alright, fine, it’s true that I even consider cutting the trip short, but I recognize quickly that I will absolutely be okay. I’ve survived half a year of the French; this should be a walk in the park (Or more accurately, the beach). And I have a hunch that being alone with my thoughts will be a good thing. It’s necessary. Suddenly, I’m calm and for the first time in a long time, I’m in the present moment. I’m content.

Ten days of exploring, ten days of reading, ten days of thinking, sunbathing, swimming, traveling, island hopping, reflecting, journaling and introspection, and here is what I have come to discover:

Discovery #1: As my friend Ife would say, “I can’t be bothered.” What I mean is this: Life is short. The planet is overheating. Gas prices keep increasing and employment rates are decreasing. Everyone is agitated, everything causes cancer, and soon, gravity will take its toll on us all beyond the aid of Botox. Until that day comes, I’m going to enjoy my youth. I’m going to celebrate wellbeing. I’m going to stop feeling so self-conscious, being bothered by insecurities, and so help me God, I’m going to benefit from those evenings I once spent at the gym, in a dance class or some fitness activity—I’m going to get nude at the Nude Beach on Brac Island and I’m going to stay there until cellulite and stretch marks find me in old age; Or maybe just for the afternoon. And so I did… and it was thrilling.

Discovery #2: Typically, I’m a planner. I am delighted by schedules, by lists, by [somewhat obsessively] crossing off the completed chores. I take joy in the sense of control that it offers. I misplaced this trait, I’m assuming, somewhere over the Adriatic Sea. I went into Croatia with an itinerary. Three days here, one day there, two nights in this place, and a day trip to that place. I didn’t follow the itinerary at all. I didn’t plan. I didn’t worry. There was more than one occasion, when I arrived in a new place, decided I liked it and found accommodations for the night. Normally, this would warrant me an Ativan and a panic attack, but something had changed. Somehow I knew that everything always works out….and it did.

Discovery #3: I love traveling. I believe it transforms, transcends and takes the soul to new heights of understanding. My love for travelling has been continuous and constant, and at times, I’ve been more loyal to travel than to my own romantic relationships. I listen to stories of people who have cycled through Europe; who have climbed to the top of mountain peaks; who have trekked trails that spread over multiple countries; people who do all of these amazing feats. I follow their stories with amazement; “Wow, I want to do that!” But let me distill an accuracy that I learned about myself: In actuality, I don’t want to do those things. I just wish I were the type of person who actually wanted to do those things. Maybe I lack a certain je-ne-sais-quoi or Spirit of Adventure, but I have no desire to set out on an arduous quest to prove myself. I am more exceedingly proud that I can now drink Italian espresso; or when I step off a plane in one piece after a two-hour flight next to colicky infant; Hell, I’m pleased when I’m able to retrieve my baggage directly after a flight from the baggage claim and not one month later. It may not compare, but I’m now okay with that.

I learned this the hard way when I arrived in Bol (with my luggage), on the South side of Brac Island; a place that is considered the jewel of the Adriatic. A place with secluded coves, stunning beaches, rich in vineyards and olive trees, but not congested with tourists. Drunk off it’s beauty and only that, I thought, “Sure, why not hike to the hilltop that overlooks the ocean and camp at the campground?! I could totally do that. I am woman; I am strong. Aren’t I?” So I tried it.

The Verdict: Camping was too quiet, too secluded and yes, too lonely. I felt isolated, agitated and afraid of the dark. The wind howled, I didn’t sleep and I was wide-awake when the sun rose at 5 a.m. I packed my bag and headed off the island, never wanting to camp again and learning that I don’t need to prove everything.

Discovery #4: Since arriving in Europe in January, I’ve been something else for someone else—mostly an Au Pair/nanny/volunteer/help/etc. I’m not complaining—I swear. I kinda-sorta knew what I was getting into. But after the last six months of asking others what they want (What do you want for breakfast? What do you want on your toast? What do you want to wear to school today? What movie do you want to watch and book do you want to read? Where do you want to take your timeout at?), I’ve decided it’s my turn. So without further ado, here is exactly what I want:

I want to live. Live with intention; live with grace. I want to continue to travel, to experience, to admire beauty and encounter new cultures. I want to achieve balance and practice patience. Let go of hurt, forgive others for the past and forgive myself. Bygones. I want to trust; people; myself; that I’ll be okay; that it will all work out in the end. I want to be fortuitous, act mindfully and keep my head in the present. I want to maintain my dreams; live with passion and to follow that passion. I want to love; love fully, without acerbity of the past so I can be open to relationships and possibilities. I want to communicate; with friends; with family; with lovers. I want to pause and reflect. Recognize and release. Take deep breaths. Take my time. Be confident but humbled. Stay headstrong. Be assertive with compassion. Be swept off my feet. Continue to care and continue to live with gratitude. Be a good friend, a loving daughter and devoted sister. I want to make myself happy, too. I want to enjoy life, enjoy people and if there’s still time left over, brake for a piece of dark chocolate, a good Merlot and a good laugh.

Discovery #5: Yogurt Gelato conquers all.

Croatia was my vacation and all mine. It was a few days in Split, one night at a friendly hostel in Brac, one night camping in Bol, a few days on Korcula Island meeting travelers from all over, and one night in the beautiful but overly-touristy-overly-expensive-as-we-try-to-charge-five-euros-for-an-Espresso-Dubrovnik. I can say now that my satiety for solitude has been met. I’m ready to head back to France for a French vacation with my friend Rachel and try to find a gelato that compares.

Island of Korcula

Bol, on the Island of Brac