The Croatian experiment

“This feels familiar”, whispered Jules, while staring at the window with a look of resignation. In our own version of Groundhog Day, the three of us were again sitting around the kitchen table, on the first day of a second lock down, imposed after a spike in coronavirus cases over Christmas. Outside, the streets were empty and the weather was gloomy, so our eyes gravitated instead to the digital picture frame resting next to the window, which had started cycling through pictures of the time we had spent in Croatia.

Every thirty seconds, a new picture popped up. The images were not altogether unfamiliar, but they did seem somewhat distant and out of place. Much like finding a swimsuit tucked away in the bottom of a drawer during wintertime, these photographs brought back warm memories that could not be repeated any time soon.

─ “Let’s play a game”, I proposed, trying to lighten up the mood. “Every time a new photograph comes up, we say the first thing that comes to mind. To win, all three of us need to say the same thing!”, I added, making up rules on the fly.

When the image changed, a trio of hesitant answers echoed through the kitchen.

Failed attempt #1

Verne: “Game of Thrones!”

Jules: “Wait, what? Game of Thrones was filmed there?”

Gabriel: “What is Game of Thrones?”

Failed attempt #2

Gabriel: “I want to do that again!”

Verne: “Proud!”

Jules: “Scared!”

Failed attempt #3

Jules: “Back pain!”

Gabriel: “Faster, faster!”

Verne: “Fear of being next!”

“Water reflections!”, “Petrichor!”, “Water puddles!”

After the several failed attempts, it was time perhaps to interpret our own rules with a pinch of creativity. Following a moment of deliberation, the game committee (suspiciously composed by the same three game participants) ruled that, while we had not said exactly the same thing, we were all recalling the same memory.

The picture had been taken in Luka, a tiny, secluded village in the Pelješac peninsula. It had been raining all day but, right before sunset, the skies cleared. Leaving the raincoats behind, we headed to the village’s harbour. Even though we were all enjoying the petrichor and the dusk colours, some were having more fun than others. Gabriel and I have a well-documented obsession with rain puddles, the former to jump on them and the latter to photograph water reflections. Jules does not overly enjoy any of those things, and so ends up waiting around while the two kids get their feet wet.

“Ferry!”, “Ferry!”, “Big boats with cars inside!”

Ferries (or, in Gabriel’s nomenclature, ‘big boats with cars inside’) are a common sight in Croatia. They serve as a country-sized snakes and ladders game, whisking cars and people to and from islands, and serving as shortcuts to the winding coastline roads.

We played the game often, sailing West from Makarska to the Brac Island, then North to Split, down South to the Hvar Island, and back East to Drvenik. Jules and I kept a shared memory from these trips – trying (unsuccessfully) to spot dolphins, something we had managed to do in Azores – but Gabriel recalled instead the mechanical diversity of the ferries. ─ “This one”, he said excitingly, pointing at the photograph, “was bigger than the others. And it had a big mouth for the cars to enter, while on the other boats the cars went in from behind”. A very accurate – if somewhat eyebrow raising – description indeed.

“Stari-cat!”, “Stari-cat!”, “Stari-cat!”

─ “Stari-cat!”, said the three of us in unison as soon as the picture came up. Our rented apartment in Stari Grad – an old fishing village in Hvar – had a connected balcony that allowed the neighbour’s cat to wander in. Wonderings perhaps these were not, as our furry friend always seemed to come by at mealtime.

After a few incidents during his toddler years, Gabriel now understood that cats much prefer being petted than getting their hair plucked out. As soon as Stari-cat – as he had dubbed him – showed up, Gabriel would leap from the table and greet the small feline. With the left hand, he would feed him milk and chunks of cheese. With the right hand, he would present his toys and explain how they worked. For some reason, Stari-cat always seemed far more interested in one of the hands.

So, what have we learned with this experiment? The biggest takeaway is that a digital picture frame is a lot of fun when stuck at home. But perhaps we also learned something about how memories work. The shared recollections from our travels are not rooted to exotic and unique places, but rather to more mundane things: water puddles, a boat, a cat. That means we can continue amassing such warm memories nearby, in our neighbourhood and in our apartment. Never was the term ‘local travelling’ so fitting.

Verne*

Our digital picture frame is jammed full of pictures of beautiful Croatia, many more than those we can fit here. You can find all of them here in full resolution and under a Creative Commons license (meaning that you can use them freely, but are required to credit the author).

17 thoughts on “The Croatian experiment

  1. Great photos and great game. I look through my travel photos sometimes and dream of when I can head off again, and the best memories for me are not just the beautiful views and great food but the people I meet and talk to.

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  2. Your conclusions about memories mirror ours from our travels with kids. We used to ask our children to keep little travel journals, and we still love reading about the orange juice spill on the Eurostar, the terrible pizza in Paris, the easily accessible porn channels in Amsterdam, and the weird toilets everywhere!

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  3. This is pretty amazing, this post and the rest of the photos from the link, and it all put a huge grin on my face. You went to Pelješac, of all places!! There is a tiny village Duba Pelješka there of my youth, on the other side of Orebič and Mt. Ilija, the highest mountain of the peninsula which you must have observed high above. I climbed that from the wild Duba side. Do not recommend. And you went to Bol which I have never seen! And Stari grad, which I only stopped at on a ferry. That tiny Dubrovnik street is so familiar, I’m sure I have a photo of me standing on top from when I was 12. What a great story in your post of the game, and such splendid photo moments. It seems so tranquil. As if nothing was the matter. Much peace and love to your pack.

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    1. Thank you M^3! It’s a pity we missed Duba Pelješka, we meant to visit Divna beach (which I think is nearby) but ran out of time. It seems though that we’re retracing a lot of places from your youth: first Vienna, now Croatia…

      The next place we’ll talk about is also close to your heart: Italy! 🙂

      – Verne

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hahha, you surely know how to pick destinations! Ahh, Divna, yes, it’s near Duba and it’s gorgeous, just what the word ‘divna’ means in Croatian. Could it be that you were in Tuscany and Rome and didn’t say hi? 😉

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      2. Nope, we went for a road trip further south: Naples, Amalfi Coast, Castelmezzano, Matera, Bari, Gargano… Looking forward to finding a bit of time to cull through all our pictures!

        But a Central or Northern Italy trip is in our list, will keep you posted 🙂

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  4. I stopped by last night but was much too tired for your game. Appreciated it much more this morning. Beautiful Croatia! And now I’m off to hang out the washing. It won’t look as good as yours though 🙂 🙂 Keep treasuring the memories! And with a little chap like yours you’ll always be making more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beautiful indeed! It must be a fantastic place to wander about on a sailboat.

      Gabriel sends his best and says he’s great hanging out the washing and can help (he’s not, don’t take him up on his offer ) 🙂

      – Verne

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  5. I love what you did to relive your collective memories of your pre-pandemic travels. I can’t help but wonder, though, what Gabriel has to say when he reads this 20 years from now. It will be interesting to read his own account of it and how much he actually remembers. That’s going to be fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, that’s going to be a lot of fun! Hopefully these texts will help him down anchoring some of his early memories.

      My earliest memories are from the same old stories that my parents would recount every time somebody would came over for dinner. But I can’t tell if I actually remember those events, or if I merely constructed memories from my parent’s stories.

      – Verne

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