Thursday, 19 May 2011
Far Away Tales of Freedom
Countless times I listened to my family describe the beauty of the land and their love for the country. Some of my relatives fought in the war that won Croatia’s freedom and democracy from the clutches of communist Yugoslavia. Even my father and mother did their part here in the United States by writing articles and doing interviews on the news exposing the communists. My grandfather has pictures from when he was behind enemy lines helping the resistance gather weapons and supplies. In their own small or great way, my whole family had fought for Croatia. They all cherished the country dearly.
Every summer, many of my relatives take a month off to go back home to Croatia. Surprisingly, my brother, sister, and I had never gone. My parents had always been so busy. But that year we would finally go! I was twelve that summer, about to become a teenager. When my dad first announced we were going, I got my camera and prepared to experience firsthand all the stories about the castles and the beautiful land. After the long flight over the Atlantic, we boarded a 30-passenger propeller plane to fly over the Alps. The engines were so noisy I could not hear my mom talk. That plane was hot and small. Nevertheless, one look outside the window at the ice tipped mountains of the Alps and that low altitude flight was well worth it.
We landed in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The journey from Zagreb to the coast is a four-hour drive, but a beautiful one. On our way, we stopped at a national park called Plitvice. Plitvice is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Judging only from pictures I would still believe it, but being there was an experience I will never forget. The waterfalls splash and twist around the walkways, rocks, and bridges. Plitvice is a ravine, about 500 feet wide about 150 feet deep, with a river running at its bottom. When we arrived and walked to the edge of the ravine, I saw the river turn into waterfalls as it passes over rocks and flows around the boardwalks. To get to the boardwalks we had to climb down steep steps made of wood and some steps chiseled into rock. Once we reached the bottom, we walked among the most beautiful waterfalls and radiant pools I ever saw. They looked so uncorrupted, as if the earth was just born. A steady pace without stopping for pictures will get you through to where the river broadens in about 20 minutes. I took much longer than that.
After we left Plitvice, we made a beeline to the coast. Almost there, we stopped at the village where my grandparents lived and where my father was born. I even saw the rock he said he was stuck in as a kid. I saw the fields where my relatives used to grow grain and grapes. I saw the village cat peering at us from a distance like it knew we were strangers. However, once our relatives and friends invited us in to one of the little yellow cottages for drinks and snacks it almost felt like home even though I never saw the place before.
After a while, we finished our journey to the coast. Split was the city where we would be staying. The view from my grandfather’s condominium was incredible: beaches with cafes right alongside, docks with multi-million dollar yachts attached, and the sun shining on Croatians and tourists alike. I do not remember which I liked better, looking at the church steeple lit up against the night sky, or walking beside the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace. The palace dates back to 300 A.D., but the yachts not more than a 5-minute walk away are modern and distinctively sophisticated. From the windy balcony, I felt like a mixture of both native and tourist inside me. It felt like a home, but there was so much to discover and learn. My camera was always clicking and keeping the memories stored safe.
After a few days, my parents told us we were getting on the road again. However, we were not starting the long journey home just yet. We were on our way to Dubrovnik, Croatia’s iconic walled city perched right on the rocks, with waves washing up against the walls that protected the Croatian people hundreds of years ago. A cross shaped Christian church at its center, the city streets look as if a chase scene from a James Bond movie is about to take place. The houses are made of stone, same as the walls. The walls that stood for hundreds of years now hold a city alive with cafes, shops, and tourists. The sun is shining, and the cool breeze makes the temperature feel about 75. As I walked the walls perched 40-feet high over the ocean, I thought about my relatives who fought for the country, and I thought about my ancestors who fought off the Ottoman Turks while the rest of Europe was having its Renaissance. I thought about the bravery, I thought about the determination. I was proud to be Croatian.
Yet, even more importantly, I realized how big of a world this really is. I found that the stories my family told me were extremely real. Stories and tales far more exciting than any book I ever read. Stories and tales that encourage me to overcome problems just like my country did. I peaked within and I saw, as so many other Croats do, an independent soul that lusts for freedom. As I stood on the beautiful and ancient towering walls of Dubrovnik, still very young, I realized my blood belonged to a place where freedom from oppression, freedom from limitations, and freedom of mind are not just good things to strive for, they are virtues to fight for.
15 February 2011
submitted to www.croatia.org/crown