Four days after landing at Heathrow International Airport, we were off again. Sameea and I were on our way to Croatia. Both for the first time. Both as far east in Europe we'd ever been. Pushing boundaries, crossing borders, living life. The daredevil dream.
Croatia has been on my Bucket List (along with the rest of the world, but higher up on the list) for some time now. My uncle is from a tiny village outside Dubrovnik, and is always returning in the off-season to avoid annoying tourists (me) so I've never been able to go with him. Nevertheless, Sameea and I, daredevil duo, were determined to visit. We flew into Split, a port city on the eastern shore of the Adriatic sea, in the south of Croatia. Though we dreamed of visiting the Plitvice Lakes, our main destination was the island of Hvar. Being constrained to a two week vacation from cubicle nation, we simply wouldn't have enough time to visit all three sites. No worries- just an excuse to go back.
So in the wee hours of the night, we took a cab to Gatwick airport in London. Boarding the plane like zombies, we closed our eyes one minute and opened them the next in Split, Croatia. We told Sarah we had to Split. We didn't want to, but we Split up. I had money to Split the cab with Shmee. But it was British pounds not Croatian Kuna. HaKunaMatata. Just some Punshine to get your day started.
Our bus from the airport to "Old Town" Split (though I'm not sure there is a Newer Town there) took us through windy roads, where tiny houses topped with clay tiled roofs scattered the mountains. Nowadays anytime I board a bus, I experience an immediate excitement. Most people absolutely loathe buses but I find them curiously invigorating. They bring a certain nostalgic vibe, like that of the elementary school days of simple excitement. But also reminiscent of the 10+ hours we'd spend crossing European borders while traveling abroad. The sole fact that they are usually bringing me somewhere I want to go never hurts either.
Upon arriving to Old Town, we checked into our home for the next two nights- Hostel Sunseekers. Hungry to experience the city (and it's culinary fare, obv) we drop our backpacks and get on our way back outside. We found the main bell tower and climbed the stairs to it's top. Unfortunately somewhere in between being on ground level and the corridors on the tiny stairwell, it had started to rain. We took in the view, still breathtaking, just not as photographic as we had hoped. As soon as we stepped on the last stair, I swear the clouds cleared up again. Whattayagonnado. All the climbing gave us an excuse to go feast. So we found just that. See below.
Seafood was everywhere in Croatia, and therefore so was I. I couldn't get enough of it all- the smells, the sights, the language, and it was just the beginning of our time in the magical land. For dinner we had pizza deliciously topped with olives and anchovies, gulped down with red table wine. Inexpensive and exactly what we were craving. I wanted to melt into the stones of the street and never leave.
As we walked home, every restaurant with it's outside patio was setting up canvases to project the World Cup games onto. The match tonight was Mexico vs Brazil. We sat underneath one of the tents, ordered two beers and faked having a favorite team. Before we knew it, a gush of rain and thunder came whirling at us- and a stampede to the inside of the bar was formed. So many people had made the exact same decision, that you could hardly move your elbows- if you were a peasant that is. Sameea and I snagged a leather couch and fit quite comfortably on it.
On our way back to the hostel, thinking we were ready for bed, we suddenly heard, "West Virginiaaaaaaaaaaa mountain mama" to the tune of drunkamericanssinging. I probably clicked my heels like Dorothy I got so excited! We had found a backpackers bar of at least 60 Australians/Brits/Americans/Germans our age. So the obvious next step was to make friends and join in the fun. We barhopped, found a drink with sparklers shooting out of it, heard everyone's stories of ending up in Split, danced, barhopped some more, imitated accents, danced in the rain, and finally made it to our beds. It was a successful night in my book/blog.
Hungover from the neon kryptonite we drank, it was time to sail to the island of Hvar. And thanks be to my incredibly terrible navigation skills, we missed a side street while trying to crawl out of the inner cobble-stoned paths to the dock where our ferry would be. So we missed the morning boat. My b. We sat our booties down at an outdoor cafe, drinking espressos and reflecting on what is simply a wonderful life.
And would only get better.
An hour after sailing the high seas of the Adriatic Sea, we arrived in heaven. Hvar is beautiful, but I know the true reason I think so highly of it is because of the people we met there. I believe it was the great poet Dave Matthews who once said/sang, "It's not where you are, but who you're with that really matters". Amen, brother.
Upon docking our ferry, we took a few wrong turns, couple of circles, and finally found our hostel. Hostel Hvar Out. <<< I knew i'd like it because you can never go wrong with puns. I should mention that the reason this island was even on our radar, was the fact that I had become completely obsessed with the band Haim. I was desperate to see them live, and took at least 1-2 hours a day to look up their tour dates. Lo and behold, they were going to Europe the exact same time as us. Lo-er and beholder, they were going to Croatia the EXACT same time as us. They were playing in a festival called For, on an island called Hvar, in a place called notjustadream.
So after checking in, realizing our 4 bed hostel room was only occupied with us currently (high-five!), and having some time to kill before the hostel "happy hour" on the roof started, we went to explore. You could feel the energy of the festival everywhere, as if the imminent music was already buzzing in the air. Cue LIFECHANGINGSCENE
Sameea and I were walking back towards our hostel, right along the dock of the island, when I almost died of shock. Three feet in front of me was the coolest person I'd ever idolized, Este Haim, bass guitarist and badassbitch of the band Haim. SAMEEATHATSESTEHAIMHOLYCRAP
"So, go ask for a picture or something dude"
"Yo, you're freaking out"
So instead of rushing towards her and nerd-ily asking for a picture, I tried to keep my cool and let her continue walking the other direction. Immediate regret. We turned around and as I was que será, será-ing myself (whatever will be, will be), I saw her hanging out outside one of the patio restaurants. By the way, Este is super hard to miss- the girl is like 6 feet tall.
Spitting out word vomit in the form of a stereotypical teenage girl meeting a boy band member circa 2001, I start talking to her. This is the part that literally makes Croatia the magical land of dreams. Este told us she was walking around with some random Croatian dude because her sisters were napping and she was bored, so we should all grab some wine and hangout. I could've passed out from heart palpitations right then.
Then suddenly I was drinking wine, sitting on cobblestone steps on an island in Eastern Europe, shooting the breeze with Este Haim. Un. Real. If I described her previously as being cool, I was lying. She made the word cool instantly lame because she was so above it. She was hilarious, constantly cursed, and made fun of herself more than I would expect any semi-famous bassist to do. She was Este.F---ing.Haim.
Eventually she headed back to her hotel, for reasons of "drunken-stupor-avoidance", and not only took care of the wine but made sure we had a table to eat dinner at the restaurant next-door. Already obsessed with the country, Sameea and I sipped more red wine while we ate our octopus salad and tomato-broth mussels. I can't recall higher highs in my life.
After dinner, we drank on our hostel's rooftop, instantly making friends with a big group of British lads. I know they'll probably read this, so I'll be extra complimentary :). Pat, Adam, Joe, Andy, Max, Wendel, Sam, Ryan, Robbie and James we're, and still are of course, the funniest (and best looking) group of guys I've ever met. We all hung out together the rest of our days in Hvar, be it laying on the rocky beaches of the coast, dancing into the wee hours of the night, screaming at "teles" as England lost in the World Cup, playing "football" on the sandy cement paths, or eating Croatian pizza while recollecting the night before. I've literally never had so much fun in a four day period. Ever. So when we reunite, wherever it is, (Max's Barcelona villa or maybe London once they start making some real quid (NIBBLE)) we'll have to out-do our first reunion. Hear that lads!?
The first day of the festival, we all started at a beach bar called Hula Hula, drinking JUGS of mojitos and basking in the perfect weather. We made more friends, only ever-expanding our diverse group. At one point, maybe four hours later, I went to a tiny bathroom in the bar. I was washing my hands at the sink when I told the girl next to me, You look exactly like Kiera Knightley! To which she responded, "That's probably because I am". No eye contact, chin up, turned around, walked out. Super down to earth. Granted, I had had a few to drink but you recognize someone when you recognize someone. Plus, Ryan pointed out that Kiera Knightley was married to one of the guys playing in the festival. If you're still guessing, yes, it was her.
The rest of the festival was the highlight of my life. Haim played and it started pouring rain, yet it didn't matter. Everyone was there for the experience, the rain only emphasized that. We took a water taxi to another island containing nothing but a stage, and danced with the sun as it rose.
A few hours later we were saying goodbye and getting back on the ferry. We were headed to Spain to see a real life mermaid.