After bidding a rainy farewell to Venezia to board the Seabourn Spirit for a week of unfathomable luxury and adventure, our first stop was Hvar, Croatia. During the months of eager anticipation leading up to the trip, Hvar was the place most shrouded in mystery for me. No matter how much I read about the opulent marina, fresh seafood, and astonishing natural beauty there, I just could not imagine a place so different from everything I’ve ever known, and so far away from any place I’d ever been.

On the ten minute tender ride from the ship to the marina in Hvar, fear of boats and oceans newly forgotten and full of anticipatory electricity, I thanked every lucky star for the opportunity to be here, seeing this. The intense cerulean water, unlike any I had ever seen, eased my worries and calmed me in a way I never imagined an ocean could. As we pulled up to the marina, I was first in line to leap from the tender to land and breathe in Hvar.

The first thing I noticed, which I didn’t expect because I had no expectations, was the smooth, spicy smell of grilled meats. The restaurants on the marina were touristy (and almost assuredly overpriced), but a short walk to the center of the village revealed undeniable Middle-Eastern influence complete with a fast food stand featuring fresh kebab. It was abundantly clear we were no longer in Italy.

Strolling down the tiny streets and alleys of the town of Hvar, the marina, the luxurious ship, Italy, and most of all home, seemed an impossible distance away. Each shop clerk, trinket, and building was a stark reminder of just how life-changing this trip was going to be.

After exploring the town, we headed to the rocky shore of the Adriatic Sea for a swim. Though I hadn’t been in an Ocean for ten years, I willed myself down the rocks to the water. I was just about to wade right in when a crab popped out of my platform rock and convinced me to jump from the dock instead. It wasn’t easy, but I took a leap of faith right into the Adriatic and swam, letting the place wash over me. It was one of many watershed moments of the trip, and a huge personal victory.

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