*A Quick Disclaimer: This post is going to detail the complaints of someone currently in the midst of traveling around the world for 2015. I want to acknowledge straightaway that yes, I do realize how lucky I am; No, I would not trade doing this for anything; Yes, I know it’s insane that I am complaining about being stuck on the Adriatic Coast while most people would trade places with me in an instant. Mostly, this post was a realization of finally finishing a long-term assignment, a way to vent, and most importantly, a way to understand myself a bit better. So, if you don’t like reading about travelers complaining about how “hard” their “experience” is, stop now and check out some of our other posts talking about how awesome the world is. No hard feelings. Also, if you hate Emily Dickinson for any reason, best to bail out now. Thanks —Ben*

The closest Jenna and I have come to buying tickets home and ending our travels (six months earlier than planned) came during a week relaxing on the Adriatic Coast in Slovenia. If that sounds insane to you, maybe this Emily Dickinson poem will help:

Italy, Travel“Much madness is divinest sense

    To a discerning eye

Much sense, the starkest madness.

    Tis this, as all, prevails

Assent, and you are sane,

    Demur, you’re straightway dangerous

And handled with a chain.”

-Emily Dickenson

Still confused? Understandable. Maybe some backstory will help.

Over three years ago, I emailed my most influential teacher from high school—Ms. McInerny, aka Mac, asking for an assignment. I was about to start a new job, one that would encourage creativity and artistic fortitude. It would be a large shift from the corporate videos and retail responsibilities I was used to. In an attempt to think artistically again, I asked Mac to give me a prompt or passage like the old days of English 10H and AP Language. I would take that and translate it into a creative piece; whether it be photography, writing, drawing, or song didn’t matter, as long as it was creative. I completed the first assignment the weekend after starting my new job. Mac’s response was positive and she sent me another prompt, the poem above.

Three years later, I still haven’t completed it. Honestly, the prompt stumped me or at least, froze me.

On one hand, the project worked. The single assignment revived my creative thought process and set me up well working at my new job. I got busier there, my life picked up even more once Jenna joined me in Colorado again a couple months later, and so I never focused on the second assignment.

Originally, the second prompt was supposed to be translated in either fiction, art*, or photography, but Mac did give me an out by adding on a fourth option: something I choose. Well, I’d like to exercise that fourth option and instead do a pseudo-biographical, literary analysis of the poem. Strap in or bail now folks, because this is about to get personal, random, and most of all, for everyone but myself, pointless.

*The header image is the “art” I created to send to Mac for the prompt. It’s a composite image, hopefully illustrating how out of place I feel at the beach.

If I had to give you an allegorical example of what I thought Emily Dickinson was trying to say with this poem, it would be that this poem perfectly explains my frustration during our beach vacation.

Slovenia, Piran, Travel

Let’s break it down:

“Much madness is divinest sense

During the middle of bluebird days, on the coast, I would rather be inside taking a nap. I’m fine with the occasional quick swim or what have you but after that, I would rather be in the shade or even better, inside in the air conditioning with a good book. I realize that many people agree with this, hence beach umbrellas, but in Portoroz, Slovenia, I seemed to be alone. If I told someone at home that during my time on the Istrian Coast of the Adriatic, I sat inside and read on a blue-sky day, I’m pretty sure I could feel their incredulity across the 5,000 miles between us. Madness to you, perfect sense to me. It’s not that I don’t like being outside. I just can’t stand laying out in the sun at the hottest part of the day, all so my dip in the ocean can feel slightly more refreshing.

To a discerning eye

This is pretty straightforward: I clearly have a discerning eye.

Slovenia, Adriatic Coast, Travel

Of course we did swim and sunbathe. Piran doesn’t have any sand beaches. You swim off the walkway and sunbathe on the concrete. I preferred this completely to our time on Portoroz’s trucked-in sand beach; it was another sort of madness.

Much sense, the starkest madness.

It is madness to me that people sit out, for hours on end just getting hot from the sun. Spending time in Portoroz and Piran did not sway this feeling for me at all. It is madness, the number of bright, DEEP, Lobster red sunburns that other beach goers subjected themselves to. I can understand wanting to be in the sun, so that when you jump in the water, it feels that much cooler; but after your healthy, 15 minute dose of Vitamin D, cover the eff up! At least sit in the shade, but don’t just throw on some sunglasses and call it good, slowly morphing into Benny the Bull. To me, that’s madness. To the large population of visitors to the coast last week, it made all the sense in the world. It’s what they do.

Slovenia, Istria, Travel

We enjoyed our share of Aperol Spritz, pretty much the stock photography goldmine of a vacation drink.

Tis this, as all, prevails

Pretty sure she’s saying, “that’s just the way it is” (Notice the alliteration and consonance though.  It’s almost like she is trying to speed your reading of this line in order to smoothly pass over it, acting like this isn’t even worth extra time to ponder…) Marketing and pop culture have bred the idea that “vacation” and even “relaxation” are for some reason synonymous with lying on a lounge chair, cocktail with tiny umbrella in hand, slight smirk settled underneath sunglass covered eyes. If you are imagining a woman in this scenario, a large sunhat is probably involved. Our visit to the Adriatic coast exemplified this fantasy in so many ways. And yet…

Assent, and you are sane,

…in order for me to “beach vacation right,” I’m supposed to join the masses in the sun. Even though it leads to skin cancer. Even though it can get uncomfortable if you don’t find the sweet spot in the shade (or pay extra for an umbrella). Even if as a photographer, the light is at its worse, and yet because the water is so blue, you still try to take pictures, knowing they won’t turn out like you want them to (I did say this would be personal).

  Demur, you’re straightway dangerous

And handled with a chain.”

And this is the crux of it all. Every morning I would get up and take in the view from our apartment. It was spectacular. Rolling, lush green hills dotted with churches and old Venetian style houses stretch along sapphire blue water. The kind of blue that a six year old with a coloring book would use for water, expanding out 270 degrees around our peninsula, wrapped by three countries, all within sight (from our hilltop perch in Slovenia, we could be in Italy or Croatia within 15 minutes). Yet, I felt trapped. I felt guilty. Here I was in this stunning place, and I couldn’t stand it.

Slovenia, Portoroz, Travel

The spectacular view of the Istrian Coast of the Adriatic from our apartment balcony.

Every morning I would get up with a sense of dread with trying to fill the day. Now, of course, this was not just based on the fact that I’m not the number one fan of beach vacations. It was a combination of complications. Our apartment was great; bright, big, A/C, fridge, solid Wifi. But it was also at least 2km away and 200m above any town. We were on the coast during a heat wave; perfect for swimming, terrible for trudging back uphill to the apartment. We had a car, but there was no free parking in any of the towns, and we were already WAYYY over-budget. That same budget restriction cut out activities like Standup Paddleboarding or sailing (not that I can sail) or anything like that. That led to swimming being the only water activity, which is great for either a 15 minute cool down or an intense workout, but not much in between. Especially when one of us would have to stay on land with our phones, cameras and wallets at all times. Even our refreshing solitary swims weren’t ideal, with both of us cutting the bottom of our feet on the rocky bottom, not realizing the importance of water shoes.

Slovenia, Istria, Travel

Once swimming, the water was amazing.

These are really petty complaints! But…all these complications sucked out a lot of the enjoyment of being on the coast. The obvious take-away is that I am just not a beach-person. I already knew this (I’m far more mountain man). But struggling with the chain of guilt that I felt by not embracing the coastal experience was an immense weight. Additionally, we realized we needed to start planning for the next step in our trip. We planned to be in Budapest the following week, and after that, our lives were a big question mark. Realizing how fast this was approaching, while we were holed up in our apartment-on-the-hill during the heat of the day, we started trying to plan.

We were paralyzed. I couldn’t fathom walking 2km to town for a swim without spiraling into logistics of what we would do after the swim and so on and so forth; how could I figure out where to go next with THE ENTIRE WORLD TO CHOOSE FROM?!?! Even when we came up with destinations, we psyched ourselves out, imagining it would just be a cycle of aimless traveling: arrive, wander, sleep, repeat. Normally, that’s plenty exciting! That pretty much describes our wonderful, fulfilling year to this point! But, with the coastal guilt, it sounded awful and boring. Our travel stoke was out.

Slovenia, Adriatic Sea, Travel

There are some advantages to staying at the top of a hill.

Each day was like a strange uphill climb. By the end, we had gotten out and explored; sometimes by leaving and driving to Italy or Croatia, sometimes by waiting in the cool apartment until it the sun weakened enough to venture out without melting. We swam—of course we swam!— and those short swims were just enough of a reminder of how lucky we were to keep us going. And they were truly spectacular. The Adriatic Sea is hands down the most amazing water I’ve swam in. I’d end each day feeling encouraged, only to be dragged down overnight, waking up in a funk once again.

Of course, the time finally came to head off. We had dropped the rental car off a couple days before and were back to backpacking and mass transit for getting around. It felt good. By the time we got off the bus and walked to our apartment in Ljubljana, the weight of expectations was gone.

I guess my takeaway from this experience and Ms. Dickinson’s poem is to remember to be aware of your own feelings. It’s easy to get bogged down by the expectations of others, but usually, taking too much stock in those expectations will lead to disappointment. Rather than getting buried by this, stay aware of how you feel and what you want, and make your choices off of that. After two days in Ljubljana, our travel stoke returned full force. We still didn’t know where we’d be in a week, but it was more exciting to think about than paralyzing. I’ve come to terms with how we spent our time on the coast. If I could go back, I’d change a couple things, but maybe having a bit of a travel crisis was necessary. And hey, can you imagine a better place to do it than here?

Slovenia, Istria, Travel

(Cause apparently, I can…)

Slovenia in pictures
The Kelebek Hotel: Our favorite hotel in the world