This year, in the heart of what is typically busy season, I had an odd stretch of open days. I hadn't even noticed the gap in my calendar until my father asked me to join him on family vacation. Those words were so alien to me that I couldn't help but be intrigued.
My family didn't vacation.
We lived in the heart of Europe for much of my childhood, but didn't get outside of Germany until I was an adult and able to see other places on my own.
We didn't spend more than a day in a new city.
We didn't seek out new cultures.
So, it was, in part, the novelty of being asked on family vacation as an adult that made me scrape together funds and buy a ticket.
I landed in Dubrovnik and met up with my dad. The following day, we took the bus to Montenegro, a tiny coastal country situated between Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We met up with his girlfriend and her daughter, who is only slightly younger than me. For six days, we explored the old fortified city, swam in the salty Adriatic, had the most touristy of tours, island-hopped, and soaked in the midday sun. I found myself taking chances, big and small, like zip-lining over a canyon and jumping off of a boat to swim into a cave.
When the family departed, I decided to return to Dubrovnik and spend a few solo days there.
There are cities that feel real, like they can fit somewhere into day-to-day life context, and cities that don't. Dubrovnik felt like walking through a dream set in another century.
It's the crystal, turquoise sea and the ancient medieval fort surrounding the old city and the starlings overhead and the sweeping history of it all. Dubrovnik is a city to romanticize, and fairly so.
I stayed at this delightfully inexpensive hostel, which provided me with a private room with a shower and happened to be within walking distance of everything. On day one, I walked the old city walls of Dubrovnik, which were constructed in the 7th century and considered one of the great fortification systems of history (as they had never been breached). My next two days consisted of taking this cable car, hanging out with stray cats, sipping on sugary drinks in outdoor cafes, walking cobblestone streets, and exploring the island of Lokrum.
My summer reading for this trip was Rebecca Solnit's "The Faraway Nearby", which turned my mind to fairy tales, to extended periods of solitude, and to finding surprising connections and moments of beauty during a time of uncertainty.
I didn't know how to swim for much of my life. I taught myself slowly, but always approached any body of water with caution. It was on this trip that I found myself able to dive fully in, choosing the momentary shock of cold water over gradual and fearful steps. A lot of challenges came up during traveling this time around, much like in Solnit's book, but it's the feeling of floating in the vast open water and the sanctuary of falling in love with words again that stayed with me.