Stones are crushing and we are picking up speed. We are laughing, thinking, "David will be so proud of us!" Our bikes absorb the shock of each rock and we navigate our way down bike route 33 or 36 or whatever it is. It's freeing. The sun is getting tired, and we are okay with that. Kristin's bag is weighed down with crackers and wine, I've got the cheese. We always use to say it is, "The happiest of hours," but today it truly is. Waterfalls have left us in awe and we are in route to a swimming hole that the Catoctin can only dream of.
The sun has been so kind to us this trip. We could have not asked for a better day, or actually just for things to work out better. Most of the time, I find accommodations or attractions and we go with the flow. Figuring everything out generally happens with the support of public transportation, but not this time.
There is nothing, yet so much...The lake is 6km away and there is one shuttle at 9 am. We have acquired a new friend on this leg of the journey and I truly feel insecure. I have booked what looks like a beautiful place, I have done my best to understand the busses and trains, but there is still so much gray.
We make it to the place just fine. Now, we need bikes. We know we can get them, but foggy maps are hard to read. I am so tired of making decisions and this is where my love for Kristin kicks in. She knows I am just tired of planning and our new friend has brought me more research, so she takes the lead, and I can't thank her enough. The information lady shouts directions and we are on our way.
Cute gentleman greet us at the hotel and it's like a feast of information.
This place is cool. Bikes await in the morning, (don't warn my muscles) today we hike the water route.
It is interesting to travel with a new person.
To absorb what they are feeling, combatting your own feelings. It's like, ahh, fresh air isn't always so fresh. I am happy he got the chance to experience a part of Croatia that is unreasonable to travel to by yourself, but I also just can't read him all that well.
Hostels aren't frequent in these parts, so we all nestle into a guesthouse that makes me feel like I have power. The purple blankets are calling my name, and the opportunities to cook are speaking to Kristin's soul! What a weird situation. What a cool place to be.
We have been all over the place. Switzerland, two places in Germany, Austria, Budapest, and now Croatia. It's nice to just chill for a second. We stopped in Zagreb, the capital for a night. We walked the streets looking for some food and it was so beautiful. Wide cobblestone roads filled with young people and flowers planted in beautiful designs. It's a nice change from the chaos that is Budapest. We must take a two hour bus from Zagreb to Plitvice National park and it's worth it...nice people, trails, and nature.
Following Croatia, our plans are sketchy. We have to fly to Greece, from Rome in a few days, but spending twelve hours in Slovenia waiting for a twelve hour night train is unappealing. We decide our best course of action is to fly to Rome from Budapest and from there we could take a train to the Dolomites to hike for a few days.
Shuttles prove to be delayed and after arriving in Rome we have ten minutes to find our 6 hour train to complete the last leg of this long day....45 minutes later...we are having drinks and dinner in Rome...we will just leave in morning....
3 days later...we are still in Rome explaining the rain in the mountains doesn't make the long journey there seem worth it...it could have been a little blue fuzzy on the weather report for all I care...sometimes you have to just settle for a few days.
Plus, I am just having too much fun in Rome.
Our hostel has the best breakfast, bar, and people. We get the last beds each night and have to change rooms every morning. There are outrageously funny and good spirited young people here. Kristin and I have both been to Rome before, making it "sight-unseeing," but there is a beach we haven't been too!
We met a girl from the hostel who happens to be on the same flight to Athens with us and we have to leave for the airport at 3 am...no beds needed...the bar is 24 hours. She so thankfully organizes the cab and we are off. The airport's inefficiency is surprising and our, "plenty of time" ticks away. Another kid was going to be flying with us, but as the shuttle bus doors close, we know his luggage took too long to check, so it's just the three of us off to Athens.
I find us our way to the hostel and we wait for a friend of Rachel's who she also met at the hostel in Rome. We all go to lunch and it just instantly clicks. The laughter is genuine and we sit on some rocks overlooking the Acropolis. We are gauging if all the rules in the hostel are worth abiding, or if we should just go to Santorini that evening.
Beers on rooftops makes decision making more fun and we commit to the cause. The ferry leaves at six and gets us there at 1 am. The tourist people organize transportation and a hostel for the evening. We just go with it and stock up on supplies for our evening at sea. Conversations, jokes, and sleeping all over the boat pass the time. A pink conversion-ish van waits for us at the port, we get in, I think how happy I am we have a guy with us...An older couple also hops into the van and we travel through a maze of roads to happily see they have an actual place to stay. The van continues into the maze on what feels like dirt roads. He stops and I just take a deep breath...it's a real place! The guy lets us in and shows us one room and says the other one is upstairs. He insists we are the only people there and we can be as loud as we want. Upstairs we go trying to find the room, using the key in each door until one opens. At the exact moment the key twists, the neighbor's door opens and we all scream soooo loud...its haunted! We are laughing so hard, but before we settled down, we have to check out the rooftop pool. This place is beautiful, we really believe the view is a painting, the water is so calm with mountainous islands in the distance. Matt and I both look to the sky...a shooting star...gosh, my heart leaps!
In the morning we all leave the place feeling giddy, but it's a little like a walk of shame, the place wasn't empty, it was full.
We try to understand the busses to get to the beach, but end up taking a cab. Once again, I travel with hopes that the place I've found is real...one of the reviews insists it is not, so we are taking a chance. The hostel gives you a bus stop and a place to go to ask how to get there. There is no address or street name. We wind through wine country, watching the cliff faces change as the road descends downhill. The taxi driver stops in what feels like nowhere and says this is the bus stop. I look around to see the place we are supposed to ask for directions is boarded up and my heart drops, maybe it isn't real. The cab driver pushes us out of the car and I guess we will just have to figure it out. We find a nice ATV place right next to the stop and he so kindly gives us directions. We walk down this dirt road, wondering when the tumbleweeds will start to roll on by. We finally stumble upon our hostel, and this place is awesome! The pool is nestled into a beautiful stone patio, with lounge chairs, picnics tables, umbrellas, and people! We are two minutes from the black sand beach, bars, and we have our own room!
Rachel and Matt end up staying with us till Wednesday and sunscreen couldn't block out the laugh lines. It was sad to see them leave, but that's what happens when you backpack. I almost gave into temptation and thought about continuing to travel with them, but I declined (gosh, I wanted to go).
Genuine people are easy to find when everyone is vulnerable. When you take ego out of it, mix in discovery and a dash of drive, you find friends like these. No one is competing with stories, no one is seeking to be the center of attention, and no one is homesick.
I want to go back to that shooting star though. It proved the view was alive and not a painting. It was a flash of excitement that holds so much symbolism...a little wink from the universe. It reminds me how fast time flies. When my friends and I were younger, we would sleep outside and look for shooting stars. It was fun and we would make a wish as it flew by. I didn't make a wish that night...I was already living it. I don't know where that star went, but I hope to mirror it's course.
Someone told me before I left for this trip that, "In life, it is okay to put a punctuation mark on an idea, or a time in your life." That shooting star, was my punctuation mark. While I am sad to be getting on busses, ferries, planes and trains to find my way back home, I am also ready for a new paragraph. What's the point of traveling if you never allow yourself to implement what you have learned?
Successful trips create an urge for more exploration. The desire and curiosity to travel will settle in the back of my mind for a little while, until it feels too stagnant. The trip is never really over, it's just letting life in for a little while.
I am on the train looking for the WC and thinking about finding the adapter so I can charge my phone. I have some internet so I reply to a Facebook message and start counting back to see what time it is at home. I catch a glimpse of the electrical plug out of my peripheral vision and my heart sinks a little bit...I am home. What a scary place to be.