Years ago, my husband and I planned to visit my family’s ancestral home, located just outside of Dubrovnik in Croatia along with my parents and my sister. None of us lived in the same city, but we managed to find flights that were expected to land around the same time even if not on the same airline. Once booked, I spent the next several weeks worrying about what to pack and how to communicate once there, but hardly thought about the logistics of getting to our destination.
“Cancelled? What do you mean cancelled?” we asked an attendant as we stood, stunned, at the ticketing counter on the day of the flight with our bags in tow.
“You should always check ahead,” the agent muttered. We felt it best not to respond.
The agent sighed before offering, “let me see what I can do.” Click. Clack. Clickey, clack. “Okay, I can get you on another connection… hmm…” Click. Clack. Clickey, clack. “Yes, I can get you on an earlier flight, through Vienna by way of London, but you’ll need to hurry.”
Bags checked we rushed to the security checkpoint along with several dozen other passengers headed to other destinations. At the sight of the line, I started to panic. I knew my family’s flights were already off the ground. They wouldn’t know how our plans had changed – I hadn’t thought to sign them up for alerts. I looked at my ticket, the other passengers, and at the large digital clock. “Ma’am,” the TSA agent caught my attention. “Ma’am, you are going to need to calm down or we aren’t going to be able to let you through.”
Calm down? Calm down? Did my near breathless panting as I ran up to the checkpoint not clue him in that time was not on my side?
Fine. I took a deep breath, attempting to appear serene. I’m sure I failed, but at least we were able to enter the line for the first leg of our now four-leg journey.
On the second leg, I watched as the graphic representing our plane on the in-flight entertainment system showed us approaching London. And passing London. And approaching London again. Psst, the flight’s overhead speaker system spat as it came online. “Ah, Ladies and Gentlemen we’ve been told that there is a lot of ground congestion. We’re going to need to circle around a few more times while the runways clear, but don’t worry, we’ll get you on your way soon.”
I glanced at my ticket and at my watch. It would be tight, but there was time to make our next connection. There just had to be.
An attendant stopped by our seats, dashing my hopes. “You aren’t going to make it.”
What do you mean we aren’t going to make it? I started rummaging through the seat pocket for the vomit bag. I was going to need a vacation after this vacation.
We wouldn’t finally reach Dubrovnik until the following day. Thankfully I’d found my phone allowed for international text messages, even if it wouldn’t make calls so at least my parents weren’t equally frantic when we didn’t show.
After a long cab ride from the airport to Old Town Dubrovnik, I was stressed and travel weary. All I wanted to do was put my feet up. Unfortunately, the downside about visiting a walled city recognized as a World Heritage site is the lack of accessibility by modern transportation. I was dismayed to learn the only way to reach to reach the home we’d rented was by ascending several flights of narrow stairs while carrying our bags. My back and calves ached. No part of this vacation was going to plan.
Eventually, though it was time to locate something to eat and the group of us followed the rings of stone footpaths and more stairs until we’d reached a line of open air restaurants. We sat back and waited for our order. And waited. And waited some more. No one seemed to care about turning over a table so that other patrons might eat. Who runs a business like this, I wondered.
The owner approached our table. Rather than apologizing for the delay in bringing out our food he pulled out a bottle of a locally distilled beverage and offered us a glass freely as if we were visiting relatives rather than customers. My dad and hubby tasted it, but one whiff of its strength was enough to tell me I was better off abstaining. The owner told jokes as the food was brought out and made sure we all felt welcome. Apparently, a happy one, I answered myself.
Meal times the following day played out very similarly in both informality and length. Each meal drug out so long that by the time we were served there was really only time to plan to where to eat next. I had heard of the slow food movement, but this went beyond what I had experienced at various trendy tapas bars in the States.
Dubrovnik is a cruise boat destination and during the main season the streets of old town are crowded with tourists, but the season was nearly over. The streets of Old Town were filled instead with lavender in the form of soaps, oils, and as a featured ingredient in bottles of an otherwise clear beverage similar to the one from the night before, but what was missing was a sense of pressure. If you were interested in one of the various wares, you bought something, if you weren’t, there were minimal attempt to persuade you otherwise. It was as if they were simply content to let life work out the way it would.
We ventured outside of Dubrovnik to where my family’s house still stood in a state of mid-renovation. In the distance, I could see tufts of wild lavender scattered across an otherwise rocky hillside. Their presence explained the plethora of lavender based products in the market below. I watched as tall blossoms, where little else grew, undulated in the wind like the waves of a purple ocean. I was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed.
Later, as I sipped on a cup of coffee in an open-air plaza while watching the people go by, I thought to myself how lovely life was at that moment and felt the last of my stress go. Eventually, I knew I would have to return to my home and all of its rushing from a to b, but that was a problem for another day. For the balance of my trip, I was content to simply be like the fields of lavender and the people who had built their livelihoods around it, and let the wind take me where it would. And that was a souvenir worth taking back with me.