Finding Inspiration

When planning a family holiday, I tend to rely heavily on recommendations from people I know well and who have personally inspired me to visit a certain place or country – people who know me and my family well, and who understand what things will appeal to us.  I have been fortunate: I have a loyal band of Norwegians, Fins and Swedish/Fins who, often without knowing it, ‘guided us’ on our Scandinavia trip. For our trip around the Baltic States and Poland I relied on another close friend who knew not just everything I could possibly want to know, but who is also Professor of European Studies and drip-feeds me information that just makes me want to go everywhere. 🙂 In Slovakia another friend walked me around Kosice and talked of the Czechoslovakian uprising in 1968, showed me bullet holes left behind, and told me of the pain he felt that Prague was no longer his capital. These personal images are my absolute inspiration and they guide me in my planning whenever another epic family journey is on the cards.

Project Meeting in Split.jpg

Back to Croatia….

In previous blog posts I have made no secret of my love of Croatia and how wonderful the place makes me feel: my haven, my place of happiness and calm all rolled into one. Why this is so I can’t really say – it just does. But I can tell you how I came to love it as much as I did. It is entirely down to all the lovely people I have met there over the years. Staff at the Alternatura, the eco tourist agency in Komiza, an elderly gentleman who shared his sliced lemons with me on a long coach journey, the fruit and vegetable sellers at local markets and of course the many ex-colleagues who have become firm friends – they are at the root of it all. One such person is my lovely friend Ana, with whom I worked on education projects in every university of Croatia for ten years and who has been a huge inspiration to me – and she knows it!

Making Friends

Ana and I met almost by accident – she was in need of somebody to jointly manage a project in internationalisation, and I had been recommended. We’d never met, and her call came out of the blue but some weeks later I found myself on a plane, bound for Zagreb, for the first of many meetings. We were friends from the start, not so difficult to understand when you realise just how much Ana and I have in common. We both love to travel for starters. Ana, who packed up the family car every summer and drove with her husband and young son Arno all over Europe, north to south and east to west. Sounds familiar? 🙂 We share other passions too, for cooking (as well as eating) good food, learning about foreign countries, cultures and customs. And above all, we both value friendship.

Ana's Balcony.JPGAn insight into the past

By day three of our first meeting, Ana and I found ourselves working on her balcony on the fourth floor of an apartment block in Zagreb. It was on that balcony that the foundations were laid for our friendship as well as ten years of successfully jointly managing international projects. It was my first visit to Croatia and the Balkan Wars were still fresh in most people’s memories. Ana’s stories were fascinating. There were stories of her family and neighbours hiding in the basement during the shelling of Zagreb and about refugees in local sports halls; stories of Ana emptying her linen closet and giving away most of her sheets and towels to help those who found themselves without house or home. She told me about friends and family all over former Yugoslavia, how they had suffered during the war and how some of them were driven out of their homes at gun point. Her stories painted pictures in my mind of humanity and inhumanity, living side by side in this war-torn part of Europe – a region trying to heal itself, learning to live with the complexities of its recent and not so recent history. I was hooked!

Moscenice.jpg

We talked and I learned. Ana has such love for her country. During our discussions she told me tales of her wedding, the mountains she loves so much and their summer house in Mošćenice, a beautiful hilltop village on the northern Adriatic coast, where she and her husband Velimir bought an apartment with a view to retiring there at some point in time. When we visited it some years later it was just as I had expected. The medieval village consists of just one circular pedestrian street, a tiny walled community complete with laundry hanging out to dry and cats sunning themselves in the sunshine. Not long after buying the apartment, they bought a plot of land, just outside the village wall, where they began constructing their ideal garden – a true haven of peace, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Life doesn’t come much better than sitting in Ana and Velimir’s garden in Mošćenice with a gin and tonic in your hands.

As we met more often, I learned about Croatian folklore, traditions, speciality foods, and Ana and I put together a list of must-visit places. Thankfully, our project meetings were rotated, so that each university involved could host a meeting or workshop, and as a consequence I have managed to tick of almost all the places Ana has told me to visit. Dubrovnik, Cavtat, Mljet, Lokrum, Korçula, Vis, Split, Trogir, Zadar, Rijeka, Opatija, Mošćenice, Zagreb, Osijek – been there, seen them all. And how! 🙂

Girlie Road Trips

Ana, Summer 2009The great thing about Ana is that she is always up for a giggle – always ready to do something outrageous.  In that respect too we are very well matched! When she and I needed to attend three meetings in the space of a week in Austria and Croatia, she didn’t think twice when I suggested a girlie road trip. We ‘recruited’ two more lovely ladies, hired a car and our road trip was complete. The image of four ladies-of-a-certain-age charging down Croatia’s most beautiful motorway towards the sunny south while singing along to Frank Sinatra will stay with me forever. Later on, Ana and I had to attend meetings in Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka. I suggested doing the journey by ferry and allowing ourselves an overnight stay in Korçula (well – there are precious few perks when you are working after all!). Ana didn’t hesitate and before I knew it a ferry trip was fully planned. Believe it or not, it saved the project money and we had the luxury of a whole weekend of gorgeous island hopping.

I could go on forever – and I really wish I could. Sadly, this story does not have a happy ending. As I am heading back to Zagreb – exactly 10 years to the date of my first meeting with my dear friend, I am preparing to attend her funeral. Others too are making their way to Zagreb from all corners of Europe – such is the overwhelming love for this wonderful lady who graced our lives, enriched it in so many ways, and gave us all glimpses of what it means to be Croatian and to truly love your country. She is kindness, generosity, friend, partner-in-crime, project manager extraordinaire, loveliness and fun all rolled up into one. As one of our friends put it – although Ana was not that much older than any of us, she somehow was mother to us all (I know – she’d hate it if she heard us say that…). Sadly – no more adventures for us. However, she has left a mark on us all, and although she’s gone, she’ll never really be gone. Ana, our lovely Ana, will be with us wherever we go. In fact – I feel a girlie road trip coming on…. come on girls, what are your plans?

 

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7 Comments

  1. an
    Posted July 17, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Annemieke for such a lovely and warmhearted story. I’m all in for the trip.
    Wonderful photographs too!!

  2. Aleida Brinkman
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 12:16 am | Permalink

    lovely…just lovely… this is the way to remember people !

  3. Vlasta
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Annemieke, for sharing with us your lovely memories of our dear friend Ana. I am another candidate of Ana’s Memorial Trip. And she will be with us, on this trip and always.

  4. Brian Staines
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Just a wonderful story, so sad and yet so full of happiness and fun for such a lovely person

  5. Snježana
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    This is so touching. I am reading your memories of Ana and feeling as you put my thoughts of her, of our wonderful meetings full of joy, work and friedship. We ought to undertake a girlie trip. We owe that to Ana as a tribute to her.

  6. Velimir Ruzicka
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    My hart is empty, my soul cries.
    Annemieke, stay in contact with Arno and me!
    Ana loved you very much!

  7. Marija Partbauer
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Just back from Ana’s grave. She isn’t there. Just flowers and candles. She is in her new heavenly gardens full of lavender smell. She might be planning another girlie road trip. Don’t give up your adventures. Ana will always be your guide.
    Thank you – a sincere comfort to her boys and her friends. The best way to keep her alive.

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