I was knackered. Grumpy because I had to say goodbye to my Mama (AGAIN!) and say goodbye to the city I had come to think of as home. Tired because Nick had left four days before me and I don’t sleep well when he’s gone. Wired because I had three flights to make it through on my own and I was worrying about the layovers and whether I would be onto it enough to NOT get lost. Oh yeah and hardly sleeping the night before I left didn’t exactly help matters.
I didn’t want to leave Nanjing. Everyone kept telling me how amazing Croatia would be and how much I would love it. I knew in my head that they were right. But my heart still wanted Nanjing, and I was mourning the thought of leaving this beautiful city I had adopted. Once Nick left, I found myself looking around me with new eyes. Eyes that realised that I was probably seeing things for the last time. Things that I would usually see every day or at least a few times a week. Like crowded subway trains. Or Ink Coffee. Or wandering down the strip mall area in Hexi Wanda, noticing all of the restaurants under renovation. Renovations that I would not be there to see the completion of. Watching the roly poly little bubbas bumbling round on unsteady feet, the kids running around playing games and the adults gas bagging outside shops and restaurants like they always do. It made me sad thinking about my last day at WEB, and even sadder when that day actually arrived. I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to all of my students, and I spent my last class at WEB talking about travelling and going abroad.
Luckily my first flight was the longest, from Nanjing direct to Frankfurt. It was filled with excited older Chinese tour groups who talked and talked and talked. They congregated together, blocking the aisles, and nattering away like school kids. Which wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I wasn’t in such a foul mood at leaving Nanjing behind me. Oh yeah, and if the guy in the old silver suit hadn’t tried to sit on my head multiple times! Long story short, I was VERY glad to arrive in Frankfurt. Luckily, my layover here wasn’t very long. Just long enough to make my way through the terminal to the gate for my next flight, get in a bit of a convo with Nick, who was in Istanbul on his own layover, before I had to board my next flight to Zagreb. I had a killer headache which didn’t help my mood at all. Arriving at Zagreb, I was surprised that I had to collect my bag and go through Customs/Immigration. Which was nothing major, seeing as Zagreb is a really small airport! But then I had the problem of what I was going to do for the next six or so hours. It was only 11pm and my flight didn’t leave until the next day at 6am. I was tired, headachey, grumpy and really REALLY wanted to sleep. But where? I managed to get wifi (only 10 minutes free and only once per device. Wah!) to have a little rant to my husband, then I explored and found the perfect place to park up my bags, stretch my legs out and have a snooze. The perfect place being a row of sleeper chairs up a level from the main airport so it was quieter and had less foot traffic (read, no foot traffic save the odd staff member) than the main airport floor. One other girl had already staked her claim on one of the sleeper chairs, so I parked myself in the opposite corner, pulled out my lavalava to wrap myself up in, tucked my phone underneath me, alarm all set, and promptly fell asleep. WINNING!
That wee nap was amazing. I woke up feeling ten times better than I did when I arrived in Zagreb. Sitting by the gate, waiting for my flight to Dubrovnik, I sat and marvelled at what was going on around me. The news on the TV in Croatian, the smell of pastries and bread wafting down from the cafe, the chatter all around me that wasn’t Chinese. I was way too tired before and had been on auto-pilot. But that moment it began to sink in. I wasn’t in China anymore. I was in a land abundant with bread and awesomely strong coffee. I have to admit I was a tad overwhelmed!
And that feeling didn’t dissipate once I landed in Dubrovnik. Of course, being reunited with my favourite Blondie was freaking amazing. But I was quickly and easily distracted. On the bus ride from the airport, I had my mouth hanging open, transfixed by everything outside. The sea. Oh the glorious, expansive, chillingly blue sea. HOW I MISSED THEE! I have never classed myself as a sea person, given that I was raised on a lake and am generally petrified of the ocean. But I actually teared up at the sight of the Croatian shore, with it’s rocks and foamy waves breaking. Nick deposited me and my bags right outside the Old Town where the bus dropped us off and I was still unable to form cohesive sentences. The view, the hills behind us, the buildings, the glorious sun that was peeking through the departing rain clouds… I was trying to take them all in at once and failing miserably! We decided it was a good idea to feed ourselves before heading to our Airbnb accommodation. Was it what!?!?!?!? We both got a Dalmation breakfast that was fairly simple: bread, cheese, Dalmation smoked ham, a doughnut, orange juice and coffee. And it blew my mind. I was in HEAVEN! We ordered macchiato’s and mine went down my throat like hot, strong, wonderful liquid gold… The Dalmatian smoked ham was salty and the bread was crusty and soft simultaneously. I had so many familiar tastes going on, tastes that I hadn’t had in a very VERY long time, and I was stunned into a silent happiness. Not to mention our breakfast view of the old wall surrounding Old Town, the rocks below and the sea gently crashing against the rocks… I am very sure that whoever invented the concept of heaven based it very heavily on a scene exactly like the one I was in at that moment. Or if they didn’t, then they should.
After my stunned silent breakfast, which Nick found highly amusing, we went and got bus tickets to catch the bus up the hill to our Airbnb accommodation. Queue more of me being open mouthed and in awe. It was becoming a habit!
And it didn’t stop when we got to our Airbnb place. Of course, the place stank of Nicks shoes, which gave it an aroma of home. But everything else was spotlessly clean, simple and comfortable. It was perfect. For anyone travelling to Dubrovnik, I highly recommend this place. It’s a series of studio and one bedroom apartments run by Sandra, who also lives in the building with her son. So she’s generally always around to answer any questions or direct you to where you need to go. She gave Nick a map of Dubrovnik when he arrived and marked the must visit places on it for him. She pointed out the nearest supermarket, which is an easy 3 min stroll away. You can walk down to the harbour or catch a bus down to the Old Town. It was all so pretty and so easy and I was so overwhelmed… So I had a nap! A wonderful nap on a wonderful real bed with wonderful real sheets and the door open to let in the wonderful breeze. Yeah, I was pretty happy.
Nick was dying to show me the Old Town. And once I hauled my butt up I realised why. The main streets were only the entree. The funny little steep stairs up side alleys were the main course. Laid out in a rough grid pattern, there were restaurants, cafes, bars and knick knack shops hidden up these fascinating steep alleys. And more amazing food! We picked our lunch restaurant by the funny, doddery old man who caught our attention. He thought Nick’s attempts at Croatian were hilarious and we thought he was comical. More Dalmation ham was consumed, I almost died at the tartar I was served and the olive oil was to die for. Everything was so fresh and colourful and deliciously familiar. That night we had arranged to meet Geoff and his current Sea Princess crew consisting of his Mum Gail and Jon, another skipper who would be working with us this summer. He took us for a turbo tour of the Old Town (I have NO idea how we got some of the nooks he took us… My sense of direction is seriously lacking!) and we ended up having dinner outside in the wind! We would check out of our Airbnb the next day and meet them at the ACI Marina up the river.
Now THAT was an adventure and a half! You know how when you pack your life up and you have to reduce it down to 23kg, it seems like so little?! Well, when you have two lots of 23kg, and you have to somehow figure out to catch multiple buses with what suddenly seems like SO MUCH LUGGAGE! Three buses later, and we were deposited on the side of a road near to where we thought the marina entrance was. Thankfully we were right! Now all we had to do was find the fuel dock and load it all onto Sea Princess!
Being back on board a real yacht was amazing… But that’s a topic for another blog.
To sum it up, all those people who told me I would love it in Croatia were bang on. I found (and still find) something to love everywhere I looked. And yet I still miss Nanjing. I still have the odd moment where I almost yearn for the stale waste smell and the foggily blue skies peeking through the massively tall apartment buildings. I miss the beef noodle soup, and I miss the cabbage and pork dish that was my favourite at Da Pai Dang. I really miss Song and his wonderful team of hairdressers, I miss the crazy assed taxi drivers and how random strangers would say “hello” as they walked past.
I don’t think that missing Nanjing will ever appease, and I’m ok with that. It does’t stop me from enjoying this new part of my life. Everywhere we go, there are new things to learn, new places to learn to love and new people to meet. And I am super excited at what Croatia has in store for us!