Last summer, I spent a sunny week on the Southern coast of Croatia. The trip was a combination of travel experience and vacation, so I enjoyed an equal amount of sunbathing in near Mediterranean heat while exploring the country’s tortured history on its tiny islands.
I had been told that the cities I intended to visit were “quaint.” By quaint, my informers meant small. The old city of Dubrovnik spanned the length of a few short Manhattan blocks. Cars were parked outside the city walls; within them, pedestrian streets were actually steep stairways, scaled by wobbly grandmothers and energetic children alike. In order to reach the apartment we rented, my friend and I ascended over 300 steps multiple times a day. Directions to restaurants were often relayed as, “Climb stair. Turn left. Walk up hill.” Remaining active was simply a way to get around.
We balanced the staircases and mountain climbing with copious amounts of sunsoaking. Gazing at crystal blue waters, reclining onto foam-kissed pebbles, marinating in the Adriatic heat. The beaches teemed with the sounds of foreign tongues – men, women, and children with native lands spanning the continent, relishing the treat of exposing their bodies to the sun’s rays.
My travel partner, who was on her first trip to Europe, was a bit shocked by the near nudity surrounding us. While we were raised in a society that plastered ads for bikini bodies, summer shape-ups, and tummy tucks, here was a beach full of women who wore less – and cared less.
Was it different to lay on a beach while wondering why the women bothered to even purchase their bikini tops? Sure. But it was simultaneously liberating.
With their tops to the side, I overheard Spanish women discussing the tiramisu they shared the evening before. Their chests bare to the sun, I caught the Czech words for ice cream flavors from female voices. My friend and I had an afternoon cocktail hour of wine and a loaf of fresh bread; other evenings we took strolls with Italian-worthy gelato.
In the ancient coastal city, beauty was everywhere. And within its walls, each visitor savored life, femininity, food, and happiness. As I laid on the beach next to those women, I absorbed their confidence. I’ve carried it with me every since.
Oh, and if you’re wondering: no, I didn’t join the bare chested. Would you?