June 04, 2012

267: Away

It's been ten days since we returned from our lengthiest vacation ever – four weeks for me, three months for Kerry – and what strikes me now is how average this weekend seemed. I'm churning out freelance work. We painted the bedroom. Planted the veggie beds. And tried my hardest to cling to the reality that 11 days ago we were tired and trundling the streets of Barcelona. That two weeks ago we were ascending and descending the cliffs of the Amalfi coastline. That three weeks (and more) ago we were twisting our tongues around the Croatian language, just competent enough to ask for bread and beer. And that 36 days ago, I popped out of a 12-hour series of flights in an entirely foreign airport, hoisted my bag off the conveyor belt and proceeded through the sliding doors where Kerry was hopping up and down, waiting for me.

The time away really worked. Even though it was our first large-scale vacation where we remained fairly connected to the outside world (a fact that both irked and saved us), the distance and the difference from our routine, in almost every facet of our days, was remarkable. Our formula of not packing our days (or most days), breaking the time into installments unique from one another (big city, small city, island-at-the-end-of-the-world, mid-sized city, coastal/rural hiking marathon, big city), was honed, making each section feel almost instantly weeks apart from the previous.

Carrer dels tallers
Barcelona, a bustle and blur, a jump on summer, toasty and sun-dappled. A world center with certainly enough pavement to pound to last more than the week we could offer the city. We walked everywhere, the journey just as anticipated as the destination, each day out. We found noise and colour, in busy squares, raucous May Day demonstrations, squealing parrots and (figuratively) cheese-filled fountains set to television and movie anthems. And we found quiet, in hilly forested parks, at galleries and on our tidy little beer-friendly home street.

Dubrovnik, with its dollhouse old town, like a living, breathing theatre set. It was here we crashed for three days and first dipped our toes into a country that admittedly knew little about beyond a pair of recommendations and a well-worn, hand-me-down guidebook. An easy transition, Dubrovnik is a decidedly kempt, visitor-friendly scene. We spent our time here in and around quaint, cobbled alleys, the lushly treed and bizarre just-offshore island of Lokrum and pacing many times up, and down, the 337 steps from the town to our apartment overlooking the Adriatic and the early May super-moon.

Far, far from the hectic urban scene of Barcelona – even the postcard-like Dubrovnik – we departed for the soothing centerpiece of our time away, the distant Croatian island of Vis. It was here for five days, during the thick of our trip, we disconnected entirely. The island still felt very much a genuine and unexplored place, particularly in the summery heat of the (decidedly) off-season. We developed a routine here – sleep, lounging, reading, jaunts to the grocery and bakery, gawkings off our ocean-front patio, belly-scratching the apartment owner's dog, and beer o'clock. Of all the places we visited, the sheer do-nothing-ness of our time on Vis may have it resonating for a long, long time.

Next back to the mainland to acquaint ourselves with the port city of Split, our last destination before leaving Croatia. A working and honest city, Split's core is a lab-rat maze where generations upon generations slowly claimed, and reclaimed, squatter's rights within the remnants of an ancient Roman emperor's retirement palace. We roamed single-file lanes and markets, dipped into the still-intact basement, and looked behind doors (including one in the old-town cathedral where Kerry surprised a nun doing her morning ironing).

Our finale, a one-week self-guided hiking tour of Italy's famed Amalfi coastline, began with a manic, mostly airborne, late-night taxi ride through the dark and rickety streets of Naples (the single, greatest taxi ride of my life). But it was hardly representative of our time in Italy, which was even more airborne – seemingly – as we snaked and laddered the cliffs, old mule tracks and stony staircases of Amalfi over a six-day sojourn through gravity-defying towns and hamlets situated in the nooks and crevasses of an almost impossible landscape – all the while peering down on endless dictionary definitions of Mediterranean blue. These days – along with their thousands upon thousands of stairs – culminated with the famous, well-trod trek on the Sentiero degli Dei into Positano, and celebratory seaside prosecco.

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