I felt like I have barely slowed down in the last three days. Our days have been filled with hiking, making food, driving around the south of France, talking, debating, and listening to music, punctuated by brief stretches of silence gazing into the endless mountains or the blue, blue surf of the Mediterranean sea. But here is a bit of free time, before we check out for the night, so I will try my best to recount our trip thus far.
Two days ago, we drove out of Lyon as a party of three, joined by our friend Lele, who is a friend from college and from Chicago. We’ve been planning this trip in France for a while to coincide with his vacation, and thus far, it has been quite memorable! We met him at Part-Dieu, which is Lyon’s main TGV station, and breezed on south for a few hours, exchanging stories and updates from Chicago, until we came to the Pont du Gard.
I had been researching this Roman-age aqueduct since I realized it lay on the road between Lyon and our first destination of Perpignan. It was an absolutely thrilling experience to see in person this kind of historical monument, which is so austere in its beauty but simple in its function – it was built as a part of a 50 kilometer aqueduct carrying water to the city of Nîmes, and bridges a wide gap over a river, and has survived first as a toll bridge and now as a UNESCO world heritage site. Some of the things we have seen in the world improve with intimacy – the closer you get, the more you are awed and moved by the structure you see before your eyes and feel under your fingers. Others, most notably for us like the Taj Mahal, are almost better seen from afar, like a scene out of a storybook or a dream. The Pont du Gard is one of those former structures, and walking across the bridge that was built parallel to it, dipping our feet in the river beneath it, and climbing the hillside paths on either side that bring you so close you can touch the stones of the arches truly makes you realize that you are standing in the presence of something that has been here for nearly a thousand years and will perhaps be here for a thousand more. Continue reading Between the mountains and the ocean.→
Spring has come to Croatia while we’ve been here, whiling away the hours in Zagreb and Dubrovnik. Trees are filling out, and the sun warms the air on the patio every morning despite the brisk chill, so that before long, we are ushered back into the shade of the kitchen. I absolutely love it. After hiding from the sun for so long, unconsciously burdened by the extreme humidity of Southeast Asia, it is a pure pleasure to be outside in this amazingly dry, sunny weather. It draws me out at all hours of the day, with a morning cup of tea or in the afternoon or to watch a bit of the sunset. And it has changed our appetite.
From the very first morning in Zagreb, Steve and I both found ourselves ravenous. Not content with a breakfast of muesli and yogurt, we made ourselves tomato and cheese sandwiches, which barely kept us until lunch. It seemed like we were eating every two hours, and the trend kept up for a week or two. Even now, we’re puzzling out only a few answers, reasoning that our bodies are trying to keep warm in this spring weather and keep up with the miles that we walk and climb every day. But I think it may well be that the sun and reviving world around us has awakened our appetite and energy. This morning, like most mornings this past week, I woke up at 9 am (so late!) and had a bit of breakfast on the terrace while writing a few postcards. Occasionally, bees have visited our terrace and ventured into our kitchen, perhaps drawn by the rosehip and hibiscus flower tea and plum jam on bread. (Note to self: eat breakfast inside next time.) After I showered and dressed, I left Steve to his programming and took the backpack as well as a Neil Gaiman book down with me to the supermarket about half an hour away. I came back almost an hour and a half later, out of breath and burdened with many groceries after a slow climb back. Since we live at the top of the hill that is Dubrovnik, everywhere we go is down and every trip back is a climb up, much to my chagrin.
I saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time yesterday, on the bus north to Dubrovnik from the airport. We were on a winding road, carved out of the side of a mountain. For anyone who has never seen or been to Croatia, the entire country is a comma flipped backwards, with its long trailing tail pointing east along the Mediterranean (and in this case, Adriatic) Sea. This straggling strip of coastline puzzled me until we got here. Here, it is obvious that the mountains divide Croatia from its neighbor of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other side. The mountain loom up right beside the sea, and the small clusters of white and orange-roofed buildings that make up Dubrovnik and surrounding towns all perch on the hillside as the mountains reach toward the water. On the hillside, on a clear day, you can see a quarter of the way to the coast of Italy, which is just a hundred miles away.
It is incredibly like a dream. Dubrovnik feels like the medieval city and town you have imagined yourself in a million times in your favorite (okay, my favorite) YA fantasy novels or Game of Thrones episodes. It has so many elements –glossy, worn cobblestones, towering churches, soaring city walls, winding streets, narrow stairways that descend a hundred feet— that proclaims its identity as an old, old European city. It’s enough to just look at for a long time, because it looks as beautiful under the sun as it does at night, judiciously lit by some very clever tourism bureau, which no doubt also mandates orange-colored tile or roofwork for everyone in town. It is also full of stairs and slopes, which are going to either be the death of me or bless me with amazing lower body strength by the end of this trip.