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Croatia

The ocean water sparkled behind a long concrete dock and the chain link fence that guarded it. Red-roofed houses dotted the hillside, protruding from the greenery as if they had sprouted from the ground. Colorful mopeds zipped along the narrow street. And, for the first time in months, I didn’t hear people speaking Spanish on the street. It was strange.

Our flight had been at 6:40am, so George and I had decided to stay up all night rather than risk oversleeping. We made the flight, but when we landed in Dubrovnik we were exhausted and filthy. I was nodding off in the currency exchange line, waiting to trade my euros for Croatian kuna, and by the time we made it to the bus station all I wanted was to eat and sleep. We bought tickets for the bus to Split, where we would be staying, but we had a few hours to kill before the bus left so we found a restaurant near the bus station and ordered some sandwiches.

“And to drink?” Our waiter was a huge bald man with a strong accent, joking with his friends in Croatian while he jotted down our orders.

“Half liter of Ozujsko please,” said George. What a madman. I couldn’t imagine drinking a beer in my current state so I ordered a hot chocolate. The waiter raised his eyebrows.

“Little boy,” he chuckled, shrugging and walking back towards the kitchen. I will note that it was not yet 1:00 pm.

The bus ride was beautiful, or at least the hour of it I was awake for. The road followed the coastline and we watched the sun set over the Adriatic, the silhouettes of hilly islands extending dreamily along the horizon. Eventually the road turned inland and irrigated fields stretched between the bus and the increasingly distant coast. We passed through a town comprised of about six streets. The only people outside were three children playing soccer in the twilight.

The bus ride ended up taking five hours. It was the last long leg of an endless travel day, and when we arrived in Split I was a bit delirious. We stepped into a cab and I greeted the driver, asking him how far our Airbnb was from the bus station. It wasn’t until I saw his furled eyebrows in the rearview mirror that I realized I had been speaking Spanish.

Over the next couple days I really did miss hearing cheerful voices speaking in sharp Madrid castellano, and more than once I tried to speak the language with George. Being away from Spain made me think back to times in recent weeks when I would become frustrated with my inability to place a certain word or communicate exactly what I meant. “If only these people just spoke English,” I would think. I guess I didn’t appreciate what I had until it was gone. As the end of the semester draws near, it’s an idea I’ll have to keep in mind.