It ain't every day you're a houseguest at Marco Polo's ancestral home, but on one particular Saturday in mid-July, that's precisely what I was.
During the final stint of my undergraduate education–my three-week history seminar in Dubrovnik, Croatia–we were treated to the best school perk of all: field trips. Except, this time around, it blew any dinosaur exhibit or petting zoo out of the water. The really, REALLY outrageously aquamarine water, might I add.
Korčula (pronounced: Core-choo-lah... for the longest time, we went with: Core-aksdjfa;ldskn;a) is a speedy three hours' drive from Dubrovnik. Quite the doable day trip. Our big group of students and professors and professors' families all piled groggily into the bus at the crack of dawn and set off.
It felt like summer camp! Sharing headphones and an iPhone to watch a favorite Buffy episode, Croatian language lessons from the best (and toughest!) eight-year-old teacher out there whose lesson plans included the repetition-until-perfection of tongue twisters, Croatian music as the soundtrack, countless rounds of Head's Up, and a few naps (the kind where your head rattles unceremoniously against the window) later...
We boarded a small ferry in Orebić. Within minutes, we caught sight of Korčula:
We were met by Petar, an old friend of our professor's and as a native of Korčula, the man in charge of showing us around. It was sticky and steamy at noon, the sun hanging high and mighty and absolutely unforgiving, and we trudged forward in search of what little shade we could find.
Petar led us to a pavilion and chatted about Korčula's history as we all fanned ourselves furiously. When prompted to speak about Marco Polo... the most famous man to have hailed from Korčula, Petar simply shook his head,
"If the man existed at all, and that's a very big 'if'" he began, "his alleged birthplace is indeed in the heart of Korčula." The story goes that the Polo family were longtime residents of the island and Marco was welcomed into the world here before leaving for Venice.
Curious to see the Polo home with our own eyes, we continued:
"See that window to the left? That's where his bedroom was," Petar pointed upwards.
"Really?!" we craned our necks. "Which one?"
He shook his head at us and chuckled, "who knows! This likely wasn't even the real Polo house even if he did exist... which he likely did not."
Not skeptical, huh? Not one bit. Nevertheless, we climbed up the creaky, narrow stairs...
...and found this panoramic vista at the top floor:
Faced with this view day in and day out, who wouldn't be inspired to set off and explore the world?
After filling up our water bottles with warm, sun-heated water from the Polos' courtyard faucet, we were off to lunch and to beach:
Funny story about this picture above: months before ever setting foot on the island, I would come across Massimo Bar on Instagram and various travel guides, and I'd screenshot it in anticipation of our visit. It sounded so dreamy: you climb up a ladder to the rooftop of a tower and are served cocktails via pulley. It was the only thing Cassandra and I had on our Korčula must-do list.
Well, once we were actually there, we realized that 1) our itinerary on the island was pretty set, and 2) once we were given the okay to go off on our own to explore, we had no map or WiFi or concrete directions on how to find the bar, and so instead, we admitted defeat and decided to go to the beach with our friends. Lo and behold, months later when I was going through our photos, I discovered that in this cheeky shot we took while on a group ice cream break [after pleading with a 10 year old to please take it for us], we were posing right in front of the bar. See that tower behind us? Yep. Massimo Bar.
*facepalm* Do you hear that? It's the sound of my Instagram dreams crumbling into dust.
An afternoon dip in the Adriatic Sea was no terrible consolation prize. The water here was bluer than any we'd ever seen before [and at this point, I already thought that impossible] and gorgeously gradiented. It was also saltier and choppier, and very shallow. You lower yourself onto the slimy boulders by the shore, then plunge carefully into the open sea, being careful enough to avoid fully stepping onto the rocks at the bottom, mired with sea urchins as they may be. The salt in the water completely buoys you, allowing you to float peacefully until you realize you've drifted very far out and have swallowed way too much salt.
Then, you paddle back to the shore and sit there quietly, clasping the eight-year-old's hand as you guys watch her brother dive for sea urchins and sailboats rock back and forth in the distance.
Not too long after, it's time to go.