I’m home for the holidays this year, and thought I’d have a ‘holiday in my head’ by revisiting the photos, diaries and memories of my European travels in 2009. I present a look back at some of the cities and places that had an impact on me, but have not featured prominently on the blog before.
My trip to Europe was in part an origin story; a search for the towns my grandparents grew up in. An ancestral re-tracing of steps sixty years and two generations later. So I headed to Rijeka, Croatia, once the Italian city known as Fiume where my Nonna was born and raised. The name of the city in both languages means ‘river’. Not very creative maybe, but they called it as they saw it.
Due to its strategic location, Rijeka has changed hands between Italy, Croatia and Hungary many times over the centuries. Around World War II it was a thoroughly Italian city, but according to the 2011 census data Italians now make up less than 2% of the population. There’s no doubt the city and its people have changed considerably over the years, and change is really the word that summed up my impressions of the place. It’s a mixture of old and new, residential and industrial, and the clashing of cultures. In other words: all the things that usually characterise port cities.
Although the port and industrial areas take up a lot of the coastline and there aren’t really any beaches to speak of, Rijeka has a beautiful coastline like so many towns along the Adriatic. I enjoyed walking along the streets around sunset when the light brought out the best in the deep dark blue waters, the leafy greens and the sandstone yellows.
I spent a day wandering from my hostel to the Trsat Castle on the hill overlooking Rijeka. The castle was rebuilt in the 19th century and stands on the site of an ancient Illyrian / Roman fortress. I took in the great views of the city, the river, the old ruins and the new half-finished constructions. As I looked down on it I wondered at the constant changes that had befallen this spot over the centuries. I wondered did it even still resembled my Nonna’s former home?
Looking back now, I wonder more about the people who have called Rijeka/Fiume home over the generations. What must it be like to live in competition with other cultures for the right to call a place your own? To live in a site fixed firmly in the crosshairs of kingdoms and nation states eager to take over when the opportunity arises? These are questions difficult to comprehend from Australia soil, where I’ve lived a life free from war or other major disasters.
With many of the places I’ve visited in Europe I find myself learning more and more about them after I’m gone. The thoughts and feelings I had then echo in my mind, and I find myself coming back to them and wanting to know more. My journey to Rijeka was a short but thought-provoking one. I’m grateful for the glimpse it gave me into my family past, and the perspective I’ve gained from it. I’d like to get back there some day.