Friday, 30 September 2011

Reflections on....The Istrian Experience

Hello! and welcome to this, my first blog! I've been thinking about doing this for ages and, as my favourite saying goes [at least, this one is my favourite for the moment]
I think
And I think some more
About what is
About what can be
About what may be
And when I am ready
Then I act.
So, I've been reflecting on my incredible experience of travelling to Croatia, via Eurostar, a night train from Paris to Venice, and a ferry to the lovely Istrian penninsula. It was a working holiday, though the reality was far, far from work. The journey, seamless, easy, [mostly] and thrilling, I would do again, anytime. Waking up at 8am and watching Verona pass by... Didn't someone once write something about a "man of Verona"?... the train arrived in Venice on a hazy, hot morning. With lugguge left in what seemed to be a chaotic back room, the most breathtaking moment was walking out of the station to see the Grand Canal before me. Vaparettos, barges, gondolas, motor boats going every direction: noise, colour, bustle, all so very Italian!
In planning the trip to Istria, I had wanted to go by train, first to lower my carbon footprint and second, to have the opportunity to see places, such as Venezia, that I would not normally get the chance to visit. I find air travel a rather detached way of getting to B and back. Even seeing the geography from above seems unreal, though the Alps and the mountains of Macedonia seen from the air still make my heart go zing. But, I wanted to feel some of the romance of travel that some of the intrepid travellers of past times, who did the Grand Tour, or went overland to Turkey, those who traded, who journalled, who collected, who observed and who absorbed, had felt. Modern life often seems to be too homogonised. City centres all have the same shops, the same products, the same styles. Where are the frontiers now? Do modern travellers really take any risks? We research on the internet, we check it all out, find feedback, get ratings, check websites, join chat groups. It's like we have to have all the information before we even go. What's left to discover?
One of the things I discovered by going via Venizia to Istria was that Istria was part of the Venetian empire and hence had been hugely influenced by Venetian culture.  It was apparent everywhere in the food, lots of pasta and pizza, in the language, Italian has been the second language for many Istrians, and in the architecture, such as the lovely Rovinj on the coast.
The hydrofoil arrived in the Istrian port of Porec, and no sooner arrived and met by our host, Nevia, than was told hurried directions to meet the rest of the party.....down the harbor road, take the first left after the medieval tower, then take the next left onto the stone Roman Road, "You'll soon come to another medieval tower which is a restaurant. We're eating at the top of the tower." Well, surprisingly, we found it, winding up the narrow stone steps to the top, where the other dancers were happily finishing their meal and enjoying the fantastic view of the sunset over the rooftops of Porec.
Discovering Istria over the next 10 days went far beyond my expectations. It is a lovely penninsula of lushly covered rolling hills, vistas of sea views, distant hills, stone houses, red tiles roofs. Our stay was based at Butterfly House, a restored 200 year old farmhouse, owned by Nevia Mullan, a native Istrian, in the village, Majkusi. Our party of 11 included 7 of us from York and 3 'southerners' from Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
Each day we danced in the mornings for a couple of hours and had time for ourselves to swim in the pool, rest, read, and, quite often,  long chats about history, dancing, food [always a popular subject!].
I have long wanted to lead this kind of circle dance holiday, with the group all staying together, enjoying time to dance, to be and to play together, and also to explore the area, to learn about the local culture and to meet local people. For me, this made the stay at Majkusi so very special. We met Nevia's neighbours, some of her relatives and local people who helped make the holiday possible. We visited many lovely places, the Karanjak park at the tip of Istria, Motovun, a marvel hilltop village [both places I long to visit again] and Rovinj, where I swam in the Adriatic for the first time! Is it possible that the sea was like bath water? clear and so warm.
Our dancing was a mixture of Balkan dances. Those that know me, know that my passion in circle dance are the dances from what we term the Balkan countries. We also had a couple of other themes running through the week....the sea, the landscape and dances from Croatia, though my repertoire from there is limited, I had learned a few from David Roberts, which really helped! These are the dances we did:
Greece: Issos, Kalamatianos, Brostopis'nos, Tsamikos Grevena and Makedonsko Devoijce.
Bulgaria: Tropanka, Sira, Trite Puti
Romania: Asta-i Hora Mare, Siriul
Croatia: Nebesko, Letovanic
Gypsy/Roma: Rajko, Djurdjevdan cocek
Modern choreographies: Truvisqueira, Ya Salio de la Mar [both choreographed by Paul Boizot], Se Canto and Lullabai.
What fun it all was! The dancing, the eating, the swimming, the exploring new places, the sharing, the laughter.
Sometimes, I find that endings can be difficult. I've always felt that it is important for me to prepare for the ending, not just how I'm going to do it, but also to prepare the dancers for the transition. We had spent a whole week together....for most of us, that is an unusual experience and sometimes it can be a shock going back to 'normal' life.
What surprised me this time was that our ending was so easy....We'd had a superb week together. We'd grown into a family [without the squabbles] and yet saying goodbye was heartfelt but not heart-breaking. It was as if we know we are family and will always have this connection, through the dance and through our shared Istrian Experience.