Adventure is worthwhile in itself.
— Amelia Earhart
Our second full weekend abroad brought two action packed days of outdoor adventure and cultural experiences. Each day offered one of two full day tracks and from what I’ve heard, they were all incredible!
Early Saturday morning, half of the group (at least those that were awake!) went off to an eco-camp in Kastela, where they learned about the farm, helped plant and had a delicious home-made lunch. While they were off doing hard labor, the rest of us met in city center for a day of biking and arts on Marjan Hill.
Marjan hill is a protected area that was intensively forested by the government, and sits on a peninsula completely surrounded by the city and sea. With it’s stunning views and recreational paths, it is a favorite weekend destination, and is yet another area rich in history and beauty.
I discovered it’s been a while since I rode a bike! But we hiked on up to the bike shop and started our ascent of Marjan hill. It was a hot, sunny day, and some of us may have been a bit under-prepared as we started in on the ride. It definitely took me some time to figure out how to go straight again as I huffed and puffed my way up the hill, doing my best to take in the views of the beautiful blue sea.
Of course, we had a few…what I would call hard core…mountain bikers in our midst. Jumping curbs, popping wheelies – a few Instagram selfies!? – it’s no wonder we ended up with some bloody injuries!
We eventually made our way to a break point at a cliff side church where we listened to stories of the monks who lived in the hermitage caves. Our guide, Marijo, also spoke about his experiences living through the war and provided more insight on how the country continues to evolve.
It was all downhill from there – literally! We began our descent, completing our circle around the hill. After a quick stop for some snacks and band-aids, we continued onto the Galerija Meštrović. The gallery was originally the home of one of Croatia’s most famous artists, Ivan Meštrović, and now houses many of his works. He has some truly amazing sculptures that photos just don’t do justice, so I recommend taking some time to learn about him!
Okay, I lied. We thought it would be all downhill from there, but the van to return our bikes broke down. So back uphill we went. While the shop owner took us on the smallest incline available, we still questioned our survival rates as a group. Big bowls of pasta and gelato were definitely earned that day!
After a good night’s sleep, we were onto our next physically demanding adventure. I know I said I wanted to get into shape – but those Split tracks threw me right in!
With another bright start Sunday morning, we loaded into our van for a nice drive out to the river Cetina, which flows through one of the prettiest natural sites in all of Dalmatia. We donned our wet-suits, stashed our bags in the van and made our way to the river to divide into boats. Erica, Ahi and I were quick to jump in, and off we went with our paddles.
In addition to the occasional rapids, we had quite the spectrum of entertainment throughout the day. From the constant roasting between our fearless leader Helena and a fellow remote, to the bets placed on how many times Nick, John and Colin could get stuck on a rock, it was a day full of laughs. We had splash wars, debated the proper paddling technique and had Erica to serenade us with an assortment of Disney greatness. Of course, this came with threats of tossing her in the river…
The scenery was beautiful as all of Croatia seems to be, and we only had a few minor run-ins with rocks and tree branches. Overall, I’d call it a pretty successful rafting experience. As we neared our end point in the small town of Blato na Cetini, we were eager to get to lunch. Per usual, I was entertained by the attempts to peel off wet-suits and change under towels, skills I am lucky to have mastered back in my sailing & dancing days.
Back in (mostly) dry clothes, we met our host and began the hike to his home. We were in for a treat, with a traditional peka and learning the art of making soparnik. He and his wife work in the local green market in Split, selling traditional soparnik, a savory pastry resembling pizza crust filled with Swiss chard.
We quickly found our seats for lunch and stuffed ourselves full of home-made peka. Peka is a traditional way of cooking under a steel dome (the peka) that is covered in coals. It generally consists of meat, potatoes and veggies and is a delicious combination as it cooks overnight and soaks in all those juices! Go to Croatia and eat some. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
After stuffing ourselves full to bursting, it was time to make soparnik. While a few people went into food comas, our resident baker was excited to jump in and help. We watched as they rolled out the dough, stuffed and covered the pastry like a pie. Then it was time to bake on a hearth that we had just watched the the fire die out on. After brushing the ashes to the side, the soparnik was transferred to the hearth and covered in those same hot ashes. I watched as the dough bubbled up, and the couple worked together to keep the pie covered in ashes until it was fully cooked. It was hot and steamy, but incredible to see the traditional methods. Neither dish is something I would have the patience for on a regular basis!
Now that dessert was ready, we were back around the table. After getting photos of the sleepyheads (yes, we post pictures of everyone we catch napping), we dragged them off the couch to share in more food. In addition to the soparnik, we indulged in homemade donuts. If I thought I was stuffed before, I was greatly mistaken!
The food was delicious and I was in great company in a beautiful location. I couldn’t have asked for more from my Sunday! Our hosts were a wonderful and adorable couple that welcomed us into their home and treated us like family. They laughed at our attempts at Croatian terms, and told stories of their family as Helena graciously translated.
We walked around the small town, taking in stunning views and enjoying each other’s company as we talked about how incredible the weekend had been. We said our goodbye’s to our new Croatian baba and climbed back in the vans to start our journey home.
Helena had one more surprise in store for us as we sped down the highway. We pulled off on a rocky side road and followed her on a short trek to the Omis overlook. This is quite possibly the most stunning view I saw in my travels through Croatia, and provided the perfect opportunity to reflect on my first few weeks with Remote Year.
After returning to Split, I wasn’t quite ready to settle in for the day so I grabbed a dry swimsuit and marched to the beach, journal in hand. While the start of this adventure wasn’t all easy, I was beginning to get more in touch with myself. There were things I struggled with:
- Balancing group time with me time
- Over-committing myself to others
- Keeping in touch back home
- Questioning my future career aspirations
But there were also many things to be appreciative of:
- The beauty of my surroundings
- Listening to the waves on the beach
- A culture focused on living, not just working
- Meeting like-minded travellers
The first few weeks were an exhausting whirlwind, but sitting on a rock watching the colors of the sunset over the sea, I knew I was in the right place for me.