Last summer I spent three unforgettable weeks in Croatia which I call my personal “Eat pray love” project. There was one week of salsa festival, a week of relaxing, eating and taking pictures in the beautiful town of Rovinj, and a week of yoga retreat on Hvar Island. Yoga would be the pray part, eating and relaxing speaks for itself, and dancing is definitely love. I have shared reasons to love Rovinj here and here, and the time has come to tell its stories. This is going to be the post about the dancing part aka love (you will find more posts about this story under the tag eatpraylove).
I came to Croatia for the first time in summer of 2015 for the salsa festival and it captured my heart forever. On the night of our arrival we were pulling our suitcases through cobblestoned streets, the stones reflecting the light of the lanterns, the old houses towering around us, the laundry hanging from the windows – I felt like I was instantly placed in the setting of a romantic movie, and soon the cameras would roll. The town of Rovinj in the Northern part of Croatia is known as the most Italian town of that region Istria which used to be a part of Italian Veneto for ages. That’s why Italian atmosphere is luring everywhere, in the colorful facades, in the cuisine, in the smiles and jokes of local waiters. And what can be more romantic than Italian atmosphere in summer?
We dragged our suitcases on the last floor of the old house and went out on the main square where the couples were swirling to the salsa rhythm. When your day starts in the cold rainy and quiet Norway – and ends on the square by the marina, to the sound of salsa and view of a dancing crowd, your head feels like it’s pure magic. Next morning we woke up to the view of the rooftops of Rovinj and to our new reality. It was definitely love at first sight.
The whole week of the festival kept us busy with events and arrangements. There were workshops during the day, beach parties in two different locations, dancing on the main square in the evening, night parties in the old tobacco factory which had huge halls where you can wonder between salsa floor, kizomba floor, bachata floor…It was a paradise for dancers. The only problem: how do you fit it all in your day? And when do you sleep? When I asked this question to my friends before the trip they laughed: “You sleep when you get back to Oslo”. This terrified me, I need my sleep, I thought. I had to discover that I don’t need that much sleep and can survive on sea, sun and salsa (“sea, sun and salsa” is a tagline of Croatian festival, and it is definitely enough to feed your body and soul).
We would dash between workshops and beach parties, come home to wash away the sweat and sea salt and go out for dinner, then to the main square or to the factory hall to dance the night away. Sometimes we could dance until 6 in the morning, and then we would go to the bakery which has already opened, buy a tasty pastry and a yogurt and have our breakfast by the boats of the marina while the sun is rising up. Between this dashing and dancing I didn’t find time to fully admire the beauty of the town, and when the festival week was over we were boarding the plane, tired and sad. Next time I would not do the same mistake, was my resolution. I will come earlier or stay longer in order to see and enjoy the place as it is. And the next summer I kept my promise.
Next summer I stepped out of the taxi on the main street or Rovinj and was hit by the hot air like I stepped into the oven. I rolled my suitcase between colorful houses, their candy color and the heat gave the surreal feeling after the cold and rainy departure in Oslo. This time it didn’t feel like coming into a movie – it felt like coming home. After all, Croatia is close to my home country Ukraine, both in climate and in culture. We could even communicate with locals using the mix of Russian and Ukrainian. And I must admit that the Croatians are the best version of all Slavic people I have seen. Before going there for the first time I tried to prepare myself to the fact that I am going to the ex-Communist country and one should be ready to the gloomy faces and failing service. I swiftly forgot that fear on my first day in Rovinj. The locals were smiling and joking, the service was friendly and after dinner, almost every time, the waiter would come with a cheerful question “schnaps on the house?” Of course, we would have that schnaps (which often would be a local liquor with a bit of national geography or history) and we would laugh together with waiters, and my Slavic heart would melt sensing the closeness of home here. I would often say afterwards that Croatians are the perfect mix of the generous Slavic heart with a twist of Italian humor.
Back to the dancing part though. Second time feels like you are an experienced festival-animal. This time I bought only party pass, so I didn’t have to tear myself between the workshops and the beach parties which start pretty early in the afternoon. Beach party is the perfect spot, because there you can swim in the sea to the sound of your favorite song, and after getting out of the sea head straight to the dance floor. The atmosphere is great, the celebration spirit is high as a flag in the air, and the best part of it (for me) – this party is not about alcohol.
Of course, you can buy yourself a drink in the tiny bar, but I have never seen a drunk person, neither by day nor by night. Me and my friends would have a glass of wine or Aperol Spritz for dinner, but for the rest of my time I would only drink water (and coffee) because spinning on those heels needs coordination, and it’s better go booze-free. Wherever I went, I would meet happy people who easily talk and make friends with strangers. Maybe, that happiness was partly cocktail-induced, but I never felt like drinking is central to this event. Coming from Norway where you don’t party or talk to strangers unless you have had six-pack of beers, that was a very refreshing sight. It was so easy to start talking to people, make friends, join their crowd. I just love to meet people from different corners of the world, and what can be better than a festival bringing 4.000 dancers from all over Europe and even some faraway places like USA and New Zealand? This is my definition of paradise on Earth, and it is addictive, I am afraid 🙂
The organization part was lovely. There would be shows and animations that set the crowd on fire. There would be the awesomeness of a concert on Friday night when some huge band from the Caribbean would make the whole square dance and explode with energy. There would be the famous pool party at Vila Rubin on the last Sunday, where you switch between jumping into the sea, chilling (or dancing) in the pool, moving between salsa floor and sensual (kizomba and bachata) floor, or dancing with the animation masters that make everybody jump even if you are tired after a week of straight dancing. And after the party everyone stuffs themselves into the shuffle buses, with a shared cheer of kids on the summer camp.
Besides the organized events there would be spontaneous dancing, you would watch a rueda on the beach or kizomba on the corner of the main street. Especially kizomba people were good at making their own parties wherever they could set their sound gadgets. Once we came to a tiny beach made of flat concrete and steps into the water, and there in corner were two couples dancing kizomba. After some twenty minutes we opened our eyes just to discover the bodies right above our heads and that we are lying on the dance floor. Suddenly there were like twenty couples there, the kizomba beat felt hypnotizing, and as we were leaving they stayed, dancing into the sunset.
I’ve just seen that my love confession is over 1.300 words already, and if I don’t stop, I can easily go for some thousands more. I just have to stop here (and wonder if someone has the nerve to read so far). And where is the love, you would ask. Isn’t it what you’ve been waiting for? A considerate amount of flirting and sensual dancing included, but there is a disappointment to let you know that no romantic relationship has evolved from this story. No romance with a person, I would say, but totally a romance with the place. And falling in love with life again, because I have never felt more alive than when hanging in that warm water of the Adriatic sea, watching the sailing boats on anchor and the dancers on the beach, listening to that laid back kizomba beat and feeling the sun kissing my face.
And isn’t it real love?