One of the most interesting sensations I experience when coming into a new city for the first time is how new and different it looks from any other city I have seen. My eyes try to take in as much as possible. Are the streets straight or winding? Is the town flat or hilly? Are the buildings interesting to look at or quite plain? Are there sidewalks, and if so are they wide or narrow? Where do people shop, eat and stroll? And perhaps most important, is it clean? There is so much you can tell about a city based on these initial impressions. For me, all of these questions lead to the ultimate question, would I want to live here?
When we first visited Šibenik, Croatia, I saw only the main streets. It was hardly enough to make an impression. I spent a whole day on a boat tour to Kornati National Park, a chain of islands twenty miles up the coast from Šibenik. Florence stayed in town with our group and got the all day city tour. She loved it so much that when the opportunity to live in Croatia presented itself, Florence proclaimed, ‘Let’s go to Šibenik!’ Since there are few places in Croatia that I would say no to, I said, ‘Okay.’
Šibenik is different from any place we have lived. The old city was pieced together over nearly 1,000 years. What they call streets I would call passageways. These passages wind and weave in a seemingly random way. Some of them lead to a small plaza with shops and restaurants. Others dead end at the steps of someone’s apartment building. All of the buildings are three or four stories high. There is no way to spot landmarks except to become familiar with the shops on any given passageway.
All the stairways and passages are paved with stones the size of cinder blocks. They are all worn smooth and shiny from the footsteps of countless thousands of people over hundreds of years. At first, I feel like a lab rat in a maze trying to figure out where I am and how to get back to my own apartment. Then, something special happens. The streets and passages no longer look strange and unfamiliar. I begin to recognize an intersection, a café and a shop. Now I know where to go when I need to purchase groceries or a gift.
Šibenik is not a big city. If I wanted, I could walk from one end of the old town to the other in about ten minutes. However, I would never do that. It is too beautiful and interesting. All the strange new sights I remember from our first day in town now look familiar. The comfort comes in getting to know someplace new. I can only describe it by saying it feels good to be home.