Studying abroad is not a vacation. One of the most defining moments during the study abroad experience occurs after the honeymoon period has worn off. Instead of a tourist’s fascination with every new sight, “Man I really need a picture of that gorgeous gas station over there,” a veteran’s weariness seems to set in. The first time I walked home in the rain only to have my grocery bags break 100 meters from my front door I found myself cursing Ireland. The nonstop misting rain that makes it feel like you’re constantly walking through a sponge, the environmental bent that means you need to pay for grocery bags, the temperature that’s only available in Celsius so that I never have any clue what the weather forecast for the day is, all these things suddenly stopped being quaint and refreshing and a “grand adventure.” This was the moment I knew I had ceased to be a tourist. This was also the moment I knew it was time for a real vacation.
Luckily, the past Grace had possessed the foresight to predict this moment. Three friends and I had made plans to venture to sunny Croatia, the new south of France. We found cheap flights to Zadar, the only available airport when you’re coming from Dublin, and rented an apartment for the week. When we arrived, knowing only the Croatian word, “bog” for hello, we were promptly greeted at the airport by the owner of the hotel, carrying a sign that read Aliza, the name of my friend who had booked the apartment. For a mere 15 euros (115 or so Kunas, the local currency) a night, we were privy to the most beautiful lodgings I stayed in my entire time abroad, complete with balcony porch, in ground pool, grill, and garden. A coffee maker graced our apartment and we began the trip by partaking of one of the three free bottles of wine provided to us by the owners.
Croatia was everything I needed in a tropical getaway. We spent our first few days marveling over the cheap prices and purchasing the necessities (which turned out to be a 1 lb bag of almonds and lots of pasta) at the local versions of 7/11s, along with the outdoor market in town. Zadar, the fifth biggest city in Croatia, is broken up into the old and new sectors. The old section of town is comprised of white stone streets, red clay roofs, and outdoor restaurants and bars. However, the most significant places in old town Zadar was the forest tucked away into a corner of the city, swelling to mythical proportions in the pre-dusk light, and the Sea Organ, a testament to nature and engineering which consisted of a series of pipes that were places into the ocean at different levels so that with each wave a new sound was created, often resembling a whale’s song. I finished five books while lying by the side of our hotel pool and finally chased away some of my skin’s reflective paleness brought on by Ireland’s cloud-cover.
The most memorable day by far was spent exploring Krka National Park. From the very beginning we had planned on touring around to see Croatia’s famous waterfalls. However, I had been expecting something akin to East Coast falls, singular entities that plunge in linear fashion from hundreds of feet. Instead the entire park is blanketed in a series of rapidly swelling waterfalls, the width of the entire river. Using man-made wooden pathways, it’s possible to traverse the entire park, weaving over and under these massive falls, spying the local wildlife on the way, which includes such beauties as the human fish (a fish that possesses elbows…creepy indeed).