English translation: Time flies
The best part of travel writing is the experience. Sadly, my study abroad marathon is approaching its finish line. This is the final week of my session 2 class here at DIS Stockholm. My class, Travel Writing taught by the best-selling author Lola Akinmade Åkerström unearthed profound creative writing techniques from her extensive editorial expertise. Before our Study Tour trek, Lola unveiled her story-telling cheat codes: show details instead of telling, beginnings that can excite the reader, and the various types of transitions that will better develop any story. Her lessons helped us cultivate our unique voice in travel writing. Last week, she led our class of twenty students on an excursion in Croatia introducing us to their culture and traditions.
A fish should swim three times: in water, olive oil, and wine. That was lesson number one of my study tour in Croatia. Our first stop was Split, the largest city in Dalmatia, noteworthy for its ancient history, scenic architectural designs, and traditional cuisine. Split was established as Aspàlathos, a Greek colony in the 3rd and 2nd century BC. My study tour began drenched in sweat. The weather would be miserably hot (30 C/ 80 F) all week. The tour guide led my class through the humid ruins while explaining the significance of the palace walls and the history we stood on.
Food culture is very important in Croatia. My favorite encounter in Split was olive oil tasting. I learned how to distinguish virgin from extra virgin olive oil and how to enjoy it like a Croatian. We would combine it with vinegar, aged wine, salt and pepper, and eat it with prosciutto and brie. Later, we visited the green and fish markets, territory of the natives selling organic favorites like fresh sea-bass and juicy strawberries in peak season to tourists and neighbors. Our group dinner at Konoba Fetivi was a five course extravaganza full of seafood, bread, olive oil, and wine galore. I was curious about the second course of calamari risotto with chickpeas. It was the first time I tried calamari. Its delicious flavor tasted familiar on my tongue resembling my favorite Jamaican dish oxtail with rice and peas. If I wore jeans that night, I would have to unbutton them. My experience in Split will live forever in the highlight reel of my mind.
Surrounded by the crystal clear Adriatic Sea, the Krilo ferry sashayed our class from Split to Hvar, crowned queen of the Croatian Dalmatian islands for its beauteous beaches and vivid inland lavender fields. There we visited the Benedictine Nuns’ Museum. The prominent sundial on the face of the residence greeted us before we reached the front doors. The monastery was full with signature agave pattern laces made by the nuns, ancient robes for priests baring sigils of the sacred heart, and significant religious memorabilia. The tour guide disclosed the intricate legacy of the nuns; how they relinquished secular life and proudly chose to live within the monastery for the rest of their lives. Their noble choice is what facilitates their one-of-a-kind laces, which is a wonder to see in person. Besides the pristine beaches, visiting the Benedictine Nuns’ Museum was the highlight of our outing in Hvar.
Sleeping past nine AM was a luxury I could not afford on this expedition. Our study tour itinerary was jam packed with to-dos. Lola emphasized the realities of a working travel writer on assignment. Travel writers are tasked with acquiring stories, interviews, details, and cultural knowledge from their ventures. Apparently, press trips were more detailed than our study tour itinerary in Croatia. As an avid lover of pillow-tops and dreams, I wondered, when do they factor in sleep?
If my feet could talk, they would scream. Dubrovnik taught me that I needed to buy better walking shoes. My strawberry pink New Balance 990s could not handle our trip up the Walls of Dubrovnik. I felt as if the sun had a vendetta against me. Sweat saturated my clothes as we trekked up the steep stairs, taking many well needed water breaks. Popularized by the show Game of Thrones, the Wall of Dubrovnik was a more than lighthearted medieval entertainment. Our expedition around the wall took about two hours and the captivating view of the Old Town and the Adriatic Sea made it worth the exercise.
There are two liquids Croatians can not live without: olive oil and wine. I learned this tidbit from our last food extravaganza at Kameni Dvori, stone house, a family-owned farm-to-table restaurant in the Konavle Hills dating back to the 15th century. Evan, Katarina, and their family hosted our group and engaged us in a cooking class. We were split into two groups, one group with Evan and the other Katarina. While one group was in the kitchen the other was in the garden. With Evan as my group’s instructor, we ventured the vast garden filled with organic eggplants, cabbage, cherries, strawberries, chickens, and olive trees that were well over four hundred years old. In the scorching sun, my peers and I picked plump peaches and bit into their surprisingly succulent interior that quenched our thirst in the Croatian heat. We all agreed it was the best peach we have ever tasted. Together, we foraged cucumbers, peppers, onions, and beans from the fruitful garden in preparation of our meal.
Meal prep was all about teamwork. After thoroughly washing our hands and dressing ourselves in aprons, Evan directed us as we sliced the foraged vegetables and skewered seasoned pork on bay leaf branches to be cooked with an oak wood fire. He noted that while cooking the bay leaf branches would emit oil that will add extra flavor to our meal. Despite my intrigue, I was famished from our scavenging quest and was ready to eat.
“My stomach looks like I’m six months pregnant” declared my classmate after we gorged on our overgenerous three course meal. Our first course was a hearty charcuterie board of salami, brie, cucumber, zucchini, prosciutto, class-made bread, and three types of seasoned spreads. The smell from my seat was riveting, inviting me to devour the surfeit of food. Our second course was a tantalizing spread of rich mashed potatoes, a hand-picked vegetable medley, beets, a refill of class-made bread, and my personal favorite, bay leaf branch skewered pork with a side of homemade pesto spread. My mouth was watering as I took candids of our meal. Our third course to-go was carob cake, a traditional mediterranean fruit cake. Overall, this was the best meal I’ve had in Croatia by far. Having a hand in cooking made eating ten times better.
Croatia is now a check on my bucket list. I am eternally grateful for my study tour. I met phenomenal, generous people who educated, fed, and comforted me during this whole experience. This adventure through the Dalmatian islands triggered a spark in my wanderlust gene and now I’m empowered to put Lola’s instructions to use.