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The options ranged from piles of sautéed squid and rotisserie meat to soups and stretch salad bars laden with pickled fish, beets and macaroni salads. The Europeans loaded up on red meat and fish. I succumbed to a narrow diet of Neapolitan pizza and pasta Bolognese.
We soon threw ourselves into the meal schedule and, like schoolkids, delighted in trying to subvert it. The cappuccino machine got shut down for the day at 10 a.m. The wine and beer spigots got shut off at 9 p.m. At first we mocked the lines of diners ferrying multiple glasses of wine to stock their tables before the deadline, then we participated. Rasha wrapped up snacks to smuggle out for the girls.
A jittery Sebastian confessed to me while poolside that he had consumed three double espressos at breakfast, “because I knew it would be shut down at lunch,” he said.
An open play area in the mess hall gave the restive children a diversion as we bellied up for our third and fourth trips to the buffet.
The adjacent bar was always open, but not crowded. I ventured there alone one night for a pre-dinner drink. Unlike Vanessa, Sebastian and Rasha, I speak only rudimentary German and no Croatian, the two main languages at the resort. The handsome bartender was baffled by my request for a vodka-tonic. I settled for vodka on the rocks with a twist.
At night the hotel and mess hall turned cozy, the unlit shoreline not visible through the resort’s window-lined walls. By day the water was a constant companion.
Unfortunately, the sea was much too cold for swimming during my spring visit. Only once did I see intrepid bathers wading in to their thighs. But every morning, I wandered down alone to the quiet shore, swaddled in fleece to nestle into an Adirondack chair, watch the sun rise over the Adriatic and take a nap.
As the day warmed, the action was poolside for a pre-lunch swim. For us, swimming meant taking turns tossing Lili and Anna-Cecilia as they squealed and giggled. The decks were always lined with bathers, but the pool was often empty enough for me to log leisurely laps.
Once when our conversation turned to food, Sebastian wondered what might be on the night’s dinner menu. Vanessa responded, “Eighty percent of what we had for lunch.”
True enough, Valamar wasn’t fancy, but we got all we needed to relax without demands on our time or pressure to participate. Valamar felt like a gorgeous summer camp and Croatia, a stripped-down version of Italy with the same stunning views, but not as many tourists.
The extent of our touring: a 30-minute ferry ride across the bay to the sleepy port city of Novigrad and a 15-minute drive into Porec, a cobblestoned city center with an ancient church, rickety bridges and sidewalk cafes. We didn’t stay long; we had to get back for dinner.
On our final day, I arranged for a sailboat excursion on one of the resort’s little sloops. We recruited a staff member for a one-hour jaunt in the bay. Lili and I skimmed our hands along the water as I privately yearned for a bigger boat, a stronger wind and a wilder ride farther out to sea.
But like the weekend, the excursion gave me enough, and I left craving more.
After we got through the Croatia-Slovenia border en route to Venice, Vanessa turned to me and said, “We have to promise each other we’ll go back soon.”
I knew what she meant; we both wanted more. Venice can wait. I will see it some day as it should be seen — in a laid-back season — or maybe I will just return to Croatia.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747