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When the wheel stops turning

What if I were to build a house in the middle of nowhere … would people come and be my neighbours? How long would it take before there was a hamlet? Weaned on the Little House on the Prairie, I’ve long had a fascination with the origins of places, how they started, and who was the first person ever to build in what now might be a sizeable metropolis. The one who began the begun…

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In Opatija, a town in western Croatia, that man was Iginio Scarpa. A man of means from the neigbouring Rijeka, Scarpa built Villa Angiolina in the mid-1800s. In 1872 the railway came and some ten years later,  Friedrich Julius Schüler, the boss man at Southern Railways, started building the grand hotels and villas that are still there today.

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Walking up and down the promenade that separates the Adriatic from the town itself, these once single-family homes are a reminder of what life was like back when the Opatija was a holiday destination for the rich and famous (Austrian Emperor Franz Jozsef was a frequent visitor apparently.) All boast a clear view of the water and it doesn’t take much imagination to add some parasols and posh-frocked ladies to complete the picture. It’s like stepping back in time.

 

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The first thing that hit me was the smell – salted air tinged with laurel. It’s beautiful. Its beaches might be concrete slabs laden with sun lounges and umbrellas, a tad reminiscent of Malta, but the water is clear and fresh and the fish swim right in to the shore. The prom is lined with cafés and restaurants and the tourists (from what I can gather) are mainly German-speaking. With an above-average Cosmopolitan hitting my glass for just under €5, you’ll not find me complaining about prices.

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Situated as it is within easy reach of other towns along the Adriatic, Opatija’s promenade is part of the 12 km lungomare that connects the town of Volosko and Lovran. It’s less than 100 km from Trieste in Italy, and Ljubljana in Slovenia isn’t that far either. The possibilities loom large.

Opatija has a tameness about it that might be more to do with it being slightly off-season than anything else. Yet this is what I came for: the feeling that time has stopped, that the wheel has stopped turning long enough for me to catch my breath… that and the seafood!

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Behind closed doors

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception – or so said Aldous Huxley, a man who died before I was born and a man I’d very much like to meet, if for no other reason than for him to explain my fascination with doors.

Someone commented quite recently that I never take photos of people. I don’t like posed portraits and I feel that taking someone’s photo without asking them first is quite invasive. And if you ask them, they invariably pose and we’re back to the portrait thing. This comment prompted to me to take a look at what I see when I have my camera; if I’m not shooting people, then what I am shooting? What are my obsessions? One is flowers behind bars and another, oddly enough, is doors. Judging by the number of photos of doors (sometimes half a dozen of the same one from different angles, and in different light) I would seem to have a bit of a door obsession going on.

Zagreb, Croatia

I have vague memories from my TV days of quiz shows where you could pick what was behind one of three doors, so perhaps my preoccupation has something to do with the endless possibilities that lie behind a closed door. Maybe it’s something to do with that feeling of exclusion – of being on the outside – waiting for a knock to be answered or waiting for the key to get in. And then the ensuing feeling of inclusion and belonging when you do manage to get behind it all. Or perhaps it’s the secrecy. My parents’ generation wisely cautions that one never knows what goes on behind closed doors. What might seem enviable from the outside looking in, could be light years removed from reality.

Wakkerstroom, South Africa

Until you actually open the door, you’ll never know for sure what’s behind it. Until you take that blind leap of faith and open that door, you’ll always wonder what might have been. And even if what’s behind the door is not what you’re looking for, or anything close to what you expected to find, the adrenaline rush alone is worth it! That deep breath before the ‘here goes nothing… and everything’ is probably the sweetest one you’ll ever take.

Then again, maybe it’s not the doors I’m obsessing about at all… maybe it’s just the colours!