Wednesday, September 15, 2010

flying free in Balè

a Croatian fjord in the autumn

My family and I have traveled to Croatia several times. The first was a quick trip during the fall about 8 years ago by car. We fell in love with the Adriatic and the pigs continuously roasting on side of the road, with big signs beckoning you in to eat them. We loved the haphazard architecture blending so beautifully with the craggy shores and hilltop castles, the hidden, unexpected fjords. We loved the people.

the boys in a seaside Croatian town

gazing at a Roman amphitheater in Croatia

The second trip was the following year to a seaside free campground we had happened upon during our first trip, where we camped for two weeks, snorkeling all day and watching the sea cucumbers raise up their heads in slow motion. It was located far down the coast on a promontory in a place called Balè, which gave my children countless rounds of laughter, since in Brescian dialect, the language my children learned from their grandfather, "balè" basically means "balls" if you say it just right. Those "balls". The sign into town said Welcome to Balè and had an image of a bucking bull (I still don't know the story on that... we never saw even one bull), so the hilarious, silly, still childish jokes would follow. The place was so stunningly beautiful, we still wink at each other every now and then and say how much we "love Balè".

a big sea sponge in Balè

The third trip was a week long sailing trip with my father through the Kornati Islands. It's hard to describe the beauty of the Croatian coast from a sailboat. Impossible. The water is so emerald green that it seems unreal, and the rocks so craggy red that you feel as if you may have been slipped LSD. We ate fish caught by my children off the back of the boat, and mountains of olives. We swam and read and sailed, and once got caught in a nasty squall which would have left us sunken on the rocky shores if not for my father's sailing skills.

cruising the Kornati Islands

One of my all time favorite experiences in Croatia happened on our second trip to that awe inspiring campground by the sea. We had discovered the campground during the off season, empty of campers, so we were unaware of it's greatest secret. As we set up camp and began to wander, I noticed a plethora of topless women sunbathing. I didn't care. Italy was full of topless women on the beaches, on TV, basically everywhere. I then began to notice not just topless, but also nude sunbathers, and then finally realized that we were camping in a nudist campground. There were grandmas cooking in their outdoor kitchens nude wearing aprons (I loved that), and grandpas watching the soccer game at the bar slugging back beers and letting it all hang out. The only fresh water showers were by the beach, and I soon joined in the nude evening ritual of a public cold shower. Everyone of every age and size was in various stages of undress. It was like a big strip poker party. And best of all, nobody cared. Everyone was wonderful. No one was ashamed. A real eye opener from someone raised in oh so uptight, prudish America.

Our favorite scene was on the last day. There were some semi-permanent campsites along part of the shore, where the owners had built up small fences and stone walls. A man was collecting stones in a wheelbarrow to build a wall around his site. He was tall and athletic and covered in dust. And he was completely nude, except for his gloves and work boots. A real sight to behold! Awesome and emblazoned into our collective memories.
Europe is great that way... you never know when you are right around the corner from a whistling man naked as a jaybird swinging a hammer in work gloves and boots.

How I miss it of late...
flying free in Balè


Jennifer said...

That sea sponge in the picture is HUGE! Wow. I would love to sail along the Croatian coast. Our friends have done it two years in a row, with kids, and they come back with so many stories.

Meanwhile, we are still learning how to sail.

Michele S. said...

My first ever trip to Vienna took Michael and I hitch hiking for many weeks. The second night out leaving Vienna (heading East) we came to Lake Balaton (Hungary) where we decided to find a camp ground.

The first one we came upon had this big sign, "FKK". Upon looking at the sign, Michael asked me, "Would this be alright with you?" I was like, "sure". Little did I know that the sign stood for "Freikorperkultur". Which translates to Free Body Culture. Which really means Nudists. First I was a little shy, but after 15 minutes with me in a bikini made me feel out of place. I adjusted quickly, not even wanting to get dressed to continue to travel. I can't wait to visit there again.