We’re back! After catching up with family, basking in the sunshine in Croatia, and seeing a lot more of Slovenia than we thought we could possibly cram into a single week, we have returned to Chisinau.
What surprised us most is just how different these two neighboring countries are. To be fair, with the exception of a day trip to see the Plitvice Lakes, we spent all of our time in Croatia on the Dalmatian Coast and did not see the interior half of the country. Still, we had expected that after being forced into an uncomfortable union within the same set of international borders for the better part of the twentieth century, there would be some cultural and culinary overlap. Moldova, for example, despite maintaining its own distinct identity has a lot in common with both Romania and Ukraine, its two neighbors. Slovenia and the part that we saw of Croatia, on the other hand, could not be more different from one another if they tried.
Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast evokes a distinctly Mediterranean essence of life – fresh seafood, unlimited sunshine, and a healthy veneration for the olive and all its products. Slovenia, by contrast, feels a lot more Germanic, bearing a closer affinity to its northerly neighbor than the one to the west. Jagged mountains, pleasant valleys, and quaint and orderly little hamlets, dotted with scenic steeple-crowned churches everywhere the eye can see. Neither country was on our travel radar a few years ago, but then we became friends with citizens of both, saw some pictures, and heard about all the wonderful travel opportunities abounding in the Balkans. We enjoyed our trip so much that we would eagerly return to this corner of the world again.
The other thing that we found surprising was just how intelligible Croatian and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Slovenian are if one knows Russian. Despite their maddening tendency to string together three or four consonants, such as Vs, Hs, Gs, Ks, and Rs, that have no business being crowded into such close proximity, the two languages share so many cognates with Russian that D frequently found that he could understand quite a lot if he concentrated. It felt kind of like having a narrow and somewhat impractical superpower: pretty much everyone on the tourist circuit speaks some English so other than being able to read and understand signs while driving around Slovenia, this added linguistic insight was rather useless. Only once, when we were staying in the tiniest of villages in Slovenia’s Vipava valley did D actually use his Russian to facilitate communication.
The end of a trip tends to leave us with a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand, it feels nice to return home, to sleep in one’s own bed, to no longer live out of a suitcase, packing and unpacking every couple of days. On the other hand, we suffer from chronic wanderlust, and the three and a half weeks we spent on the road was just enough to get us into a good travel groove and leave us wanting more. Unlike our previous trips, during which we attempted to share pictures and travel stories while we were on the road, this time we unplugged almost completely, postponing the blog updates until our return to Moldova. Now that we’re home, we’ll try to find some time to comb through the several thousand photos on our cameras and share a few stories, thus reliving the best parts of our trip.