Austrian schools have Fall Break, a wonderful week off in October before the weather turns cold, to bake pumpkin muffins and play in the park, with autumn colors crunching under our feet. I’m grateful that my children are not yet too old to scamper, and still get excited about exploring.
I’m also lucky that my kids don’t mind road trips, and that Mike is always willing to be the driver!
We survive our family road trips with patience, making sure we have lots of music and a glove compartment full of gummy bears, and by respecting anyone’s need to use the bathroom, anytime. It’s also nice that, like Seattle, gas stations know how to make cappuccino.
After a night in Slovenia, we drove south to Istria, a wide peninsula on Croatia’s northern coast full of fishing villages, hill towns, and truffles. The streets are cobbled and the roofs are red, and the busy summer tourist season has shut down by October, which means we have the restaurants and waterfronts all to ourselves. Only separated by a slim sliver of sea, Italy and Istria have a lot in common.
Rovinj is a fishing village originally founded by the Venetians, where we rented an apartment in the old town walls overlooking the Adriatic.
This was the view from our terrace, where we had happy hour as the sun went down and hung our laundry to dry. Venice is over there somewhere.
The apartment is right there, on the top three floors of the yellow building in the center. Three floors! The boys were in heaven. You can see the terrace with our chairs sitting out and the windows open.
The restaurant down below was always full of people in the afternoon, sipping Aperol spritzes and soothing their babies. I took this picture one evening as we floated by on a sunset Dolphin Cruise.
We were the last cruise of the season. No dolphins, but the sunset was pretty unbelievable.
And we liked this guy’s dog shirt. Why are British people so fun?
Vacations are when I observe my children direct and unfettered. School these days is precarious with adolescence just down the hall, and I know their understanding of the world is wider than I think. They’re solid tweens now. Their lives have dimensions I no longer see.
But this week, it all seems so simple. They blow dandelions and kick pine cones and throw rocks in the water, and fight over who gets to sit next to me. They’re excited by the double shower head and complimentary bathrobes.
They sing songs about cinnamon rolls and notice the seagulls, and tell us stories about what happens at Russian birthday parties. Their video games involve brushing donkeys.
We light candles in the Basilica and talk about prayer, and what it means to have compassion and trust God.
Jake and Eli are still little boys. We are parents, and it’s fun.
Every morning we wake up to the lapping of waves against the rocks, and walk around the corner to buy pastries filled with cherries and vanilla cream. The restaurants, owned by Croatians, Italians, and Albanians, are spilling with fish platters and wood-fired pizza.
We sample the local brew.
Jake and Eli try a new cola.
One night we just stayed home to cook noodles and watch the Hunt for Red October. That’s the nice thing about renting apartments.
One not nice thing about off-the-beaten-path vacations is the stress when your kids get hurt. It was like slow-motion that day in Pula, when Jake came tearing down a castle staircase, and somehow connected his head with a metal door. A kind lady offered anti-bacterial spray as I held a kleenex printed with Minions to his forehead. An hour later we were back in the apartment, watching, hoping, to see if the glue would hold. It did.
For the next three days we did not ride go-karts or waterslides, or anything else remotely dangerous since I had an irrational urge to keep my babies in a bubble. I hear them implore Daddy to build cairns with them at the beach, and watch Mike carry them safely across the rocks.
Their shoes are off so they can dip their feet in the water, and we spend two hours building prayers out of rocks and examining jellyfish. When I pick up my camera to go take pictures, I hear “Mom, don’t go. Let’s just stay here and collect chestnuts.” Does believing they still need me make me naive?
Or does it make us believers, still clinging to a simple version of the world where parents and children love each other with a genuineness they’ve not yet known for anyone else? Isn’t belief in a prayer the essential first step to making it real?
I’ve come to believe that open-ended prayers are best. The kind where you hope things will just turn out okay, that the wi-fi will work and your baby’s head will stay glued shut. And then if somehow things turn out better… if the kids get excited about Eddie Vedder songs on the ukelele, or the apartment lets you wash your dirty clothes for free… then prayer really does become magic.
And vacations with our kids feel like magic too. A welcome break to just be a family, for now, away from the pressure of trying to figure out what the world expects us to be.