The seasons and scents of things carry memories. Have you experienced it? Pass by a certain spice in the air or aromatic flower, and it’s as if you’ve jumped through a wormhole. You’re back in a particular mindframe, with a certain feeling related to a precise place and time, now encoded with the necessary fidelity to retrieve the original experience. Traveling is one way to walk through these portals, willingly or not, as you encounter sensory details and pay attention, nearly effortlessly, to where your mind takes you. All you need is to drop a few breadcrumbs along the path to find your way back. This is part of the art of a mindfulness moveable feast, noticing the details, and catching the feeling carried by the breeze.
Croatia has been a prime example, and I’m still taken back there in an instant when I come across certain flavors like a rich olive oil or sweet golden grapes, the scent of pines like the ones hanging over Croatian cliffs, dark needled branches like giant eyelashes, backdrop of blue sea.
Nearly this exact September day on a previous year, I arrived at the port city of Split, on the coast of Croatia toward the south, finding it a vibrant mix in energy: winding down after its summer vacationers and Game of Thrones fan tours (at least for the moment), it was both quiet and colorful at the same time. I stayed at the historical Judita Palace, in the old city center, inside the original fortress walls of the city. This exquisite hotel featured original stone built into the walls, as well as attention to detail, from the room decorations to the views over a cobblestone courtyard with outdoor restaurants, bustling with tradition and charm.
Waking up early enough for a long run through Split and down the coast farther along the local public beaches proved to be a marvelous way to take advantage of the chance for a biathlon, as I could carry my swim and snorkel gear while running, take a dip, and make it back in time for breakfast.
While the swim transported me into something amphibian, surrounded by schools of fish in abundance, the truly miraculous find was passing by the gallery of Ivan Meštrović, 20th century sculptor. His gallery museum on one side of the cliffside road, and peaceful chapel grounds on the other side, seemed to reflect a singular artistic vision (and voice), intimately of and from the land. I had to return for a good number of hours with a journal. And, speaking with a volunteer there about Croatian history gave me much more understanding about the details beyond headlines, the nuances of cultural shifts and conflicts that were critical in shaping the past thousand years along the Dalmatian coast and inner lands. Just looking at each statue, understanding that each represents a history, gave an understanding that I consider deeper—or, different—than text. And, the volunteer, who was in her twenties and still deciding about her own path, whether to stay in Croatia for continued studies and career or to leave at a time when the country continues to grow as a member state of the E.U.—my conversation with her added another mindful layer to the conversation.
And, from my mind and all the complexities of connections, came also a beautiful understanding through the senses, through letting the flavors sink in deeply. The feeling of Croatia lives in the sun baking the earth, salt easily resting on my skin after swimming, as I made the run back, then the sweetness of a breakfast featuring homemade apricot jam, figs, berries, Croatian olive oil, almonds and mixed vegetables. The softness and striking beauty of sunsets.
There is more, much more, to share about the adventures and trips off the coast. Those tales will wait, for now, just as the pine trees in Croatia are stretching down toward the sea, gently played by the wind. No rush. We’re already there in our minds, after all.