I’m generally quite positive, upbeat even. Except when I’m tired. Or hungry. Or feeling ill. Then I can’t stand to be with myself let alone socialise with others. I retreat inwards. Any attempt to boost my mood or chivvy me back to normalcy is met with an almost childlike churlishness that borders on embarrassing. My usually low tolerance level sinks even further to the point where I’m better off left alone. I’ve been around myself long enough to see the signs and know when to hole up, recognising the valour in a strategic retreat to my world, population of one. But sometimes, such a retreat isn’t possible.
In Croatia a few weeks back (where has the time gone?) I’d spent a lovely morning and early afternoon on the olive oil trail. But as time went on, I realised, albeit too late, that tasting olive oil on an empty stomach was just asking for trouble. I was driving. I was hungry. And had I anything at all in my stomach, I would have welcomed a good throw-up. As I battled with my dry heaves all I could think about was food.
We made a beeline for Rovinj, a fishing port on the west coast of the Istrian peninsula. We arrived. We ate. And I returned to the land of civility and something approaching niceness.
I knew nothing of where we were. Himself had heard vague rumblings from friends about how beautiful it was. On leaving Vodnjan he’d done his map thing and discovered that it wasn’t all that far away. It’s a lovely old town, everything packed in around the port, narrowing upwards, pyramid style, to the top of a hill where the Church of St Euphemia stands sentry. Fourteen islands lie off the coast, making me think wistfully of winning the lottery so I could buy one as a permanent retreat.
The church was built on the remains of earlier churches back in 1736. It is home to the relics of St Euphemia preserved in a sarcophagus that dates back to the sixth century but apparently remodelled in the 1400s. There’s a story behind it:
[St Euphemia] died on September 16, 304. Christians from Chalcedon [a town in Asia Minor] preserved the body of the martyr until 620 when the town was captured by the Persians. The sarcophagus with the body of St. Euphemia was then transferred to Constantinople, and placed in a magnificent church which was built in her honour by Tsar Constantine. In 800 the Iconoclasts (icon-slashers) came to power, and the Christians were forced to remove the relics of St. Euphemia. […] People say that a marble sarcophagus came floating in the sea to the coast of Rovinj after a big storm at dawn of July 13, 800. It is said that many people of Rovinj tried to haul the sarcophagus to the Church of Saint George, but no one succeeded. Finally, answering to St. Euphemia’s call, a small boy with two little cows managed to haul the sarcophagus up the hill.
Some of the works of art inside date back as far as the fifteenth century with the bell tower modelled on that of St Mark’s in Venice dating to the mid-1600s. It’s a lovely piece of architecture and a beautiful church. What makes it special though, is not St Euphemia but the welcome that is posted in seven languages inside.
You have set aside your usual work. You have left your homes and have set off on a journey filled with the desire to get close to nature, to enjoy your holiday and to relax. We hope that your stay in our country will be serene and restful and do you good.
It continues but gets a little tangled in translation. But what a welcome! A far cry from the closed doors of some churches. And given the furore that broke out in a village in Hungary earlier this week on the subject of welcoming visitors, it is worth thinking about.
As we wandered back down through the cobbled streets, we came across a plethora of artisan workshops, one more interesting than the next. Oh to win that lottery. I could have done serious damage to a bank account, if I had one worth damaging. The place was awash with tourists and the locals were capitalising on the trade. Fair play to them.
We didn’t do much other than wander around. I was enjoying being human again. When we go back – and we will – I’d like to see the Brijuni Islands from the Monkodonja Hill Fort. Isn’t it great to have the option, to have Croatia so close that I could take a notion to get into the car and drive over. And just do it, without have to worry about travel bans or border control, or whether I’d be welcome. For that sort of freedom to travel, I am truly grateful.