Feeling homesick in the Balkans

It is hard to keep track of time.  I expected that being released from a busy life full of routine would free time, allowing a new perspective and appreciation of the present moment.  In fact, constantly moving and an ever-changing environment keeps time beyond our grasp.  I sit here now in Georgia in July looking back on two months of travel and already find it hard to recall events and places beyond a few days and one country ago.

We left Germany in May, excited to be travelling again with our newly converted Defender and relishing the prospect of enjoying cold and stormy nights tucked up and cosy inside the car.  It felt strange to be back on the road after a three-month break and to be on our own again after so much time enjoyably spent in other people’s company.  We had arranged for two of my children, Mary and Peter, to fly to Croatia and join us for a few days in June.  With that appointment in mind we travelled at leisure southward through Austria and Italy, by ferry to Sardinia and back, and finally across the Aegean Sea from Ancona on Italy’s east coast to Split in Croatia, arriving in Croatia on the same morning as Mary and Peter’s flight.

We spent a wonderful five days together in Croatia, introducing the family to wild camping – an experience I’m not sure they relished – spending a couple of days on a beautiful campsite on the island of Brač and being tourists in Dubrovnik searching for Game of Thrones locations.  Croatia didn’t disappoint in terms of its beauty but Dubrovnik was very hot, very crowded and very expensive.  Nevertheless it was fun visiting the Red Keep and Blackwater Bay – locations easily recognisable – and the Purple wedding location, which required more imagination as in reality it is just a large car park overlooking the city.

After Mary and Peter’s departure we left Croatia for Montenegro, hoping it would be less busy and less expensive.  It was both of these things, and also much less developed but sharing Croatia’s stunning mountain and coastal scenery.  We also stumbled upon the remains of ancient Illyrian ruins amidst modern day villages with their ever-present mosques calling the faithful to prayer.

One of Montenegro’s Illyrian ruins

While in Montenegro I suffered my first real homesickness.  Triggered by Mary and Peter’s departure, it took me by surprise and was for a time quite overwhelming.   For the first time I experienced the isolation of travelling, even when part of a couple.  We have many aspects to our personalities and these seek reflection in all the different relationships that make up our world.  When travelling, we have no choice but to seek these multiple reflections in just one individual – our travelling companion, or in my case, my husband.  I suspect it is rare to find a partner capable of reflecting all aspects of our personality and therefore fulfilling all our needs.  I think my personality type is such that it would be impossible to find one person capable of that.

My relationships with my children, my family and my friends provided a balance within which my marriage existed.  In the absence of those relationships the balance has been disrupted and led to a feeling of isolation.  That in turn has put pressure on the marriage.  I had thought that the hardest challenge I would face during this journey would be dealing with fear.  In fact, this isolation and the relationship issues it has created has been the hardest challenge. 

Whilst dealing with my homesickness and feelings of isolation, we travelled through Albania and Greece.  Albania was surprisingly beautiful and remote, its people welcoming and friendly.  In Greece we dealt with the stifling heat by camping either on beaches, where we could cool off in the sea, or by seeking refuge in the mountains.  We drove up Mount Olympus to the head of the trail leading to the summit and found ourselves caught in a violent downpour that washed rocks and mud from the hillsides onto the roads, which became temporary rivers.  The relief from the oppressive heat was  blissful!

We were surprised both in Greece and Albania by the amount of rubbish littering the roads, parks and beaches.  In the mountains there were places where rubbish was just tipped from the roadside; beaches where plastic was strewn, either washed up by the sea or left by visitors.  It was sad to see places of such beauty marred by plastic detritus and interesting that, as western Europeans, we are supremely aware of the ecological effects of plastic. We have David Attenborough to educate and remind us. Here it seems the same awareness is, so far, limited or absent. It seems to be up to us, as visitors, to care for the environment we are passing through.

As we leave Greece and enter Turkey, I reflect that travelling is a bit like a new relationship.  The early months are full of excitement and romance, where everything seems new and interesting and anything seems possible.  Then after the initial six month ‘honeymoon’ period, the routine becomes established and familiar, bringing not only a level of comfort and security but also the reality of the mundane.  It is no longer a holiday, a break from life; it is life with all of its problems, challenges, highs and lows.  And with the same sense that time is rushing by, as ever out of our control.