My latest, a story about Zagreb's coolest neighborhood for The New York Times

A short trip goes a long way

Posted by anja | May 18, 2009 | Ex-blog, travel musings

I have a tendency to want to travel far. If I don’t cross the border, it feels as if I haven’t even left home. A strange condition. Perhaps it has a clinical name? But as I get older, I start to appreciate those short escapes that, although small and near, can mean a world of difference.

Two weeks ago, I got a last-minute invitation to spend the weekend at a friend’s house in New Jersey. It was Friday. On Saturday afternoon, I threw a change of clothes, a book and a toothbrush into my weekend tote, and off I was. My prior experiences of New Jersey were several trips to IKEA (which consistently almost ended up in divorce from my now ex-husband; incidentally, the divorce wasn’t IKEA-induced) and a couple of landings to Newark Airport. I do have another vague memory of once having alfresco lunch in one of the NJ towns across the Hudson River, with a nice view of the city. Whether the lunch was fiction or reality, New Jersey to me was synonymous with soulless industrial wastelands, ugly suburbs and buckling my seat belt on a plane.

Until that recent weekend. When my friend and I got off the train in the little town of Red Bank, there was absolutely no clear sign I was in for something special. The friend we were visiting waited at the train station and off we were for a drive toward her house. About ten minutes later, after a curvy ride along woodsy roads, we turned off into a driveway – one of the most glorious and elegant I had ever seen! At least it seemed so at that moment. It felt like entering a hacienda or some fabulous country estate. Tall sheltering trees, a breeze ruffling the leaves… and at the end of the road, a little house surrounded by bushes of blooming flowers. I felt like I entered a parallel universe, a place light years removed from New York City. Yet, two hours earlier, I was still at Penn Station. And, trust me, there was no beaming technology involved.

Perhaps it was my state of mind that endeared this little house to me. Perhaps it was the new friend I was making (I had met the house’s owner just ten days before at an event in the city and we exchanged few words before she extended the invitation). Perhaps it was the trip to the beach of Sandy Hook and the walk along the sands as the sun was dropping behind the ocean, the New York skyline in the distance from a perspective I had never seen before. Perhaps it was all the delicious healthy food my friend was preparing throughout the course of the weekend. Perhaps it was the tall willow tree with branches so elaborate that you feel as if inside some secret hiding place from The Lord of the Rings. I must admit something: I spent some time hugging this tree that has stood here longer than any human being on this earth. I was so in love with it.

Or it was all of the above. But I can pinpoint two moments when I felt this short weekend in this little spot in New Jersey may mean more to me than a year’s worth of trips. On Sunday morning, I woke up to the verdant sight of trees outside the window, sunshine coming in timidly. It was quiet, except the birdsong. I just stayed there, still, peaceful. That same afternoon, the second moment lifted me out of the ordinary. I had been weeding my friend’s herb and flower garden for a couple of hours and as I was raking the weeds to make it all nice and pretty, I felt so connected to the here & now, so firmly rooted in that very moment. In my vagabond life, that happens rarely. And when it does, I bow down, I embrace the experience and feel genuinely thankful to have had a glimpse of life in its bare simplicity.

On Sunday evening – it was Mother’s Day – I was back in Brooklyn, packed with fresh mint from my friend’s garden and fresh energy courtesy of Mother Nature with the address in Red Bank, New Jersey.

Blog Comments

hey anja,

chanced upon your blog, and loved it. i have bookmarked it and will go through it at leisure. also, i read you’re born in zagreb … i’ve been living in the city for two years now 🙂

Hi Anja

I loved your “short trip” story – especially as the two
friends you mentioned are two of my nearest and
dearest and the wonderful garden and cottage are
a home from home for me………..you described it
all perfectly!! Me soon come!
inansi
Jamaica

Neha, so glad you found my blog on your online wanderings from my home town!

Inansi, I hope to meet you one day at the little piece of flowery heaven in New Jersey.

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