Six Week Immersion – Rovinj, Croatia

Post update: Due to the “complicated-ness/mess” of simplifying our lives, we are (unexpectedly) flying back to the U.S. to handle details relating to the sale of our house, aka “house shit.” Rather adult of us, right? Thankfully, our Rovinj immersion resumes later this month. 

April 2016 – Rovinj, Croatia

We seem to be obsessing about real estate these days.

We are in the process of selling the house where we lived for fourteen years, a much-loved symbol of a previous life, while at the same time settling into an apartment, five thousand miles away from that life.

While the rental isn’t long term, merely a six-week break from nonstop traveling  – on second thought, considering we have moved on average every six days for the last year, six weeks is “long term.”

Any which way you slice it, our thoughts on what “home” means have evolved as this journey has progressed.

One of the aspects we loved about the Birmingham house, a Tudor-style beauty, was its age and history. Built in 1929, we often wandered about the lives of residents who came before and the stories played out under our roofline.

Find our new home, Rovinj, in the upper left corner.

Find our new home, Rovinj, in the upper left corner.

You might say the new space we are settling into has a few rings around the tree, too. The historic building in the achingly-beautiful old town of Rovinj, on Croatia’s Adriatic coast, dates to the 1600’s. Old enough to make our former space seem oddly newborn-ish while sparking loopdeloops of curiosity about centuries-old secrets held snuggly within these “new-to-us” walls.

Our former house boasted more square footage than we ever needed or knew how to handle. But, man was it great for inviting the whole damn town over for a party.

In the new space, a simple ritual like lathering shampoo means dislodging the tightly-surrounding shower curtain, flooding the tiny bathroom, each and every time.

Let’s call it, “cozy.” Gatherings here, by necessity, will be intimate. Of course, first we need to make friends (scribbling that task on a post-it right now.)

The luxuries of central heating and air con are not now, and most likely never will be, a feature here. But space heaters and wall units do the trick just fine.

I used to complain about not having enough closet space in the old three-bedroom home. Now, we have one-bedroom and, considering all of our belongings emerged from backpacks, there’s space to spare in the room’s one closet.

We once sprawled in a leafy residential neighborhood with privacy and quietude aplenty and neighbors a comfortable stroll away.

Now a loud “holler” or simple cough serves as a neighborly greeting.

Creaking three flights to our landing, you can guess by the smells what’s cooking in each neighbor’s kitchen. Somehow that makes us feel connected. Somehow it feels like community.

From the front window of our former home we caught blurry glimpses of an endless parade of speeding cars, everyone always in a hurry to get somewhere, no-doubt, important. After downing coffee in the morning, we fired up our engines and joined the flow, always late, always rushing, always a blur.

The new home offers a completely different view and vibe.

Some mornings, I allow whole minutes to tick by without accomplishing a single task, or attempting six at one time, as I stare out at the sky blue Adriatic from our living room window.

There’s a sea view from the kitchen sink too. Washing dishes has become a favorite hobby (truly, a statement I never expected to utter.)

It makes me laugh now to think we almost passed on the apartment because it didn’t offer outdoor space.

The apartment also overlooks a town plaza, which houses the daily vegetable market, bakery stalls, and olive oil peddlers. Leaning out the front window to hang laundry on the line, (you didn’t assume there was one of those fancy drying machines here, did you?) you get more color and context than flipping through a hundred channels of satellite TV.

Are the usual suspects in residency on bar stools at the café below, each swigging a glass of local Malvazija? Is this the day the old vegetable seller, the one with the mischievous smile, has prized green spindles signally the start of asparagus season? Are the fisherman swapping jokes and slapping backs as they unload the day’s bounty?

Through a panoramic scan from the window it’s possible to read the day’s weather and entire town’s mood.

In our previous existence, grocery shopping was always a dreaded activity. The nearest large box chain was a ten minute drive. With ten minutes more to spare, we could reach an organic market – bigger and more expensive, also a chain.

Here almost everything we buy and consume is “Kilometer 0,” a popular and accurate catch phrase of the slow food movement in Europe.

Wine, olive oil, and cheese are produced and sold within walking distance. Spinach, chard, carrots, onions, and other favorite veggies are grown just outside town and sold in the market downstairs.

The fish we gobble by forkfuls is caught by a salty gaggle of local fishermen. We watch them at work every afternoon. As we sit by the water, they hop off small skiffs with full buckets, then walk the short distance to harbor-side restaurants. We marvel as they return with buckets empty, all smiles. Truly KM0.

Matt and I feel immensely fortunate to have experienced these two different ways of life, each hitting the perfect note for a precise time. Our Birmingham home offered security and stability and enough space to stoke our big dreams of travel. Yet, we know the old adage is true, “You can’t go home again,” and this new phase requires something different.

The simplicity of our current space, combined with the sense of community it provides, fits snuggly for this phase of our lives.

We’re settling in like pros and feeling at home. The choice to upend our lives has never felt so right.

I have to wonder if any of the previous residents stood by the window like I do, soaking in the sea, and contemplating life’s big questions…

Will it be asparagus for dinner tonight?

Related stories:
Rovinj, At First Blush (coming soon.)
Checklist: Rijeka for Paste Travel
A Croatian Lunchtime Feast