Category Archives: Travel

Seal Rock: The Awesome Place You've Never Heard Of

-Sam Bouchat

When people ask where I’m from, it’s always a two-part question.

“Seal Rock,” I tell them. They won’t know where that is. People who have lived their whole lives in Oregon, who have frequented the Oregon Coast, won’t know where that is.

Inevitably, I will end up adding, “Directly south of Newport.” Only then does realization dawn.

Seal Rock, Oregon is a blip, first visible eight clicks down on Google Maps’ zoom. Before that, you would see Lincoln City, Newport, Yachats, and Waldport. Seal Rock is a lesser known pebble on the Oregon Coast, and it’s a place that I, along with about 1200 other people, call home.

Seal Rock is located along a nondescript, three mile stretch of Highway 101. To most people, it’s simply where Waldport and Newport meet, but there’s a community there, hidden away in a lone sushi restaurant, a tiny post office, a drive through coffee stand, and a few trinket and antique shops.

But what we’re known for is our namesake: the Seal Rocks, a ledge of deep black rocks that jag in and out of the Pacific Ocean right on our front lawns. It runs down the beach for about two and a half miles before colliding with the singular Elephant Rock, an enormous mossy rock that’s impossible to climb in flip-flops.  The sand is often soggy, and the ocean is always freezing, but the beach (if it can really be called that) provides a permanent home to many sea creatures the likes of which tourists traps like Newport and Waldport could never accumulate.

The rocks are packed with mussels and barnacles. Giant green anemone curl up when you poke them with a stick. Starfish (bright orange and dark purples mostly) line the tide pools in clusters.

Seal Rock is a quiet human town and a loud sea creature haven. When the tide is down, the sand washes away and the beach turns to a large, slippery, flat rock upon which the seagulls feed on crabs and pill bugs. On the Fourth of July, the fireworks from Newport, miles down the beach, echo like a shot up and down the coast, amplified by the rocky cliffs.

While we are known only as “that place south of Newport” to those who are even aware of our existence, we are contented with knowing that this little corner of Oregon really only belongs to us.

One Weekend with National Geographic

-Tiana Bouma

I thought I knew something about cameras. I could take a decent picture, and the auto function always helped. My mom knows about her camera, she loves photography and has been able to answer any questions I have had so far.  But I found out this weekend that my knowledge was limited.

Thursday night, November 19th, was the first evening of my 4-day photography workshop with National Geographic in Washington D.C. That night, we heard the background stories of two of Dan Westergen’s trips.  Westergren is a senior photo editor for National Geographic Traveler. His adventures include a trip was to the North Pole at the 90th parallel and another to Mt Kilimanjaro to climb to the peak.

The workshop was led by Westergren, Jennifer Davidson, and Krista Rossow, a photo editor for National Geographic Traveler and University of Oregon graduate.

Day 1

The day started out early with a three-hour class at the National Geographic building. We met with the editors of the National Geographic Special Edition and got to drill them with questions about their jobs and photos.

In those three hours it was obvious that I knew little about the nuances of photography.  When the class released to go take pictures in Dupont Square, a few people stayed behind to get a quick crash course on our cameras from Jennifer Davidson, an expedition leader for National Geographic and a phenomenal photographer. A half-hour class changed my whole perspective of my camera. I had a greater confidence taking a million pictures of anything I saw.

After three hours of adventuring around taking pictures with my mom, the group met again at National Geographic for a critique and share session. Their editing process was simply about picking our twenty favorite shots from the hundreds taken during that day, no tweaking or cropping needed. From our twenty favorite shots, Westergren and Davidson would choose their four favorite and explain why they were good shots.  Those four were then presented to our workshop group of 20 or so people to get feedback from everyone.

It was slightly stressful having my photos critiqued by so many talented photographers, but the advice was well worth the nervous butterflies.

Day 2

Saturday was our earliest and longest day. Although optional, we were told by Westergren, Rossow and Davidson that it would be best to be at the Lincoln Monument at 6:30 AM for sunrise shots of the monuments and surrounding area. As a west-coast resident still trying to adjust to the time difference, 6:30 AM felt like torture.

The photos were worth the early morning. My mom and I explored a new side of Washington D.C. and got helpful tips of taking nighttime shots. (They usually don’t work; sunrise and sunset are the times to get “night” shots).

Again, we met for a critique session with the workshop group and the difference in the photographers from day 1 to day 2 was obvious. The depth of field and focus had transformed to fit what National Geographic Traveler looks for in photos.

A 13-hour day exhausted everyone and we retired early after a group dinner for another workshop at the Eastern Market on Sunday morning. The workshop leaders collaborated on a video of the top photographs from the workshop and showed it at the dinner.

Day 3

The workshop was concluded with a trip to the Eastern Market, about 8 blocks from Capitol Hill. The Eastern Market was a hodgepodge of homemade jam stands, purse makers, butchers, antiqued wares, and the famous button lady. Most vendors were willing to be photographed and some even approached me, but it was the candid shots that I loved best.

A flea market covered two blocks and the items on sale had been collected from every corner of the world. Everything presented such clear stories in the photographs. It was easy to take 200-300 photos in two hours.

The final hours of the workshop were spent in a tour of the National Geographic layout room. Westergren explained his process of editing and choosing photos for the most recent edition of National Geographic Traveler. The behind the scene look into the Traveler magazine helped to cement my love of the company. The experiences of National Geographic photographers and writers can’t be replaced or duplicated.

The week I spent in DC felt much too short for all the information I learned. It has altered my work as a photographer and even as a writer. I have a new standard to hold myself to and a new goal. The vibe of National Geographic and D.C. isn’t something I can explain in words. It was an encompassing joy to be a part of the workshop and explore parts of D.C. I hadn’t seen yet.

It was a trip that changed my future, that made my dream that much more real. The workshop was an experience and a detailed lesson on professional photography that can’t be repeated.

On My Way to My Future

-Tiana Bouma

Yesterday was the start of my greatest adventure so far. Although my drive only took me to Portland, I was just as excited as if I was traveling to new a country.

An early flight from the Portland International Airport (PDX) was taking me to Washington D.C for a four day workshop with the senior editor at National Geographic.

Working for National Geographic has been my dream since I was in the single digits. I’ve always been a writer. Whether it was poems, short stories, intros to novels, or the required essays for school, writing was my fail safe and favorite activity. It still is.

As an English major I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to analyze writing, I wanted to write it. I want to teach people about things that interest me and I want to open up their eyes to places I haven’t seen.

National Geographic had taught me about places I hadn’t seen and subjects I hadn’t learned about before. I still learn from almost every page and I want nothing more to write and work for National Geographic.

So this weekend I get to live a part of my dream as I am taught photography by one of the best photographers I know of. Since I want to work for National Geographic, I may as well get to know the city I will most likely (and hopefully) be living in.

So until Thursday I am going to explore and enjoy my possible future city. And Thursday at four I will finally get to walk through the headquarters of my future dream and live a part of it.

Stay tuned for more about my workshop with National Geographic and the amazing four days I am about to experience!

Unique Bars: McMenamins Edgefield

-Jasmine Eoff

Being a student at U of O, it’s easy to get stuck in the bubble that is campus. For many of us, we are constantly eating at the same restaurants on 13th and drinking at the same bars that are within walking distance from our houses. After four years of living in Eugene, I’ve gotten sick of all the consistency and routine. I decided to set out on a journey in search of various bars and restaurants that offer a wide variety of things to do and bring something unique to the table. Today, I am stepping outside of the small campus bubble.

One of the first bars/restaurants I have come across is McMenamins Edgefield, located in Troutdale, Oregon. There are many McMenamins around the state of Oregon, but Edgefield is the biggest and main hotel. Built in 1911, Edgefield covers 74 acres of land and consists of more than 100 European-style guestrooms, many different styled and themed restaurants, classic pubs, and several smaller bars. If this doesn’t suit your interests, there are two par-3 golf courses, a spa that offers manicures, pedicures and massages, a winery, a theatre, and an open field for live music that has hosted a range of artists including Adele and Willie Nelson, to name a few.

The winery and the seven bars are all spread out across the acres of Edgefield. One of the first bars I approached was Lucky Staehly’s Pool Hall (Luckys for short). Located at the front of campus, Luckys is one of Edgefield’s most popular bars. With its pool tables, dart boards, pinball machines, snooker table, shuffle boards and juke box, there’s never a dull moment. It, like many of the other bars, is host to Edgefield’s two famous drafts: The Ruby and the Terminator. The Ruby is a light, raspberry ale with a pinkish tint. The Terminator is a stout, with a chocolate malt-like taste.

“They are both awesome flavors,” Said David Mohika, Edgefield’s catering server and bartender. “And many people combine the two to make our third popular draft, the Rubinator.”

While continuing on my journey, I ran directly into Edgefield’s next bar, the Power Station. The Power Station is located right behind Luckys, directly in the middle of campus. It reigns as their most popular sit down restaurant,  many people come with their families for lunch and dinner. Right next to the Power Station is the Black Rabbit Restaurant & Bar. The Black Rabbit is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is most known for containing multiple pieces of art that document the history of Edgefield.

Just around the corner from the Black Rabbit is Jerry’s Ice House. The Ice House is catered to those guests who enjoy closer quarters and a quieter feel. Directly to the left of that, you can spot Edgefield’s Winery. Guests are able to enjoy their wine tasting, while getting to watch how it’s made. In the wine tasting room, Edgefield also offers free live music by candlelight several nights a week.

After checking out all of the central bars and winery, I made my way up the hill to the Distillery Bar. The Distillery Bar is located at the Southern point of the property, and also houses the golf course. As its name implies, the Distillery Bar creates its own liquors including scotch, gin and brandies.

Once I finished some handcrafted liquors, I made my way down the hill to the Little Red Shed, a quaint little bar surrounded by trees. As it only seats 10 people comfortably, you truly feel at home when you’re inside. During the summer, live music is played right outside, underneath the surrounding trees.

Last, but not least, I headed over to the Tea House Bar, alongside Ruby’s Spa and soaking pool. The Tea House offers a great view of the pool, as well as various cocktails and ales. If you’re a guest at the hotel, you’re welcome to enjoy your drink while relaxing in the pool.

With all it has to offer, Edgefield also hosts many weddings, anniversaries, reunions, birthday parties, and more. Mohika has worked at Edgefield for the last two years and has been a part of many celebrations.

“The atmosphere here is amazing. It’s a cool and unique place, with many things to do,” Mohika said. “In my particular job, I get to enjoy some of the best parts of people’s lives.”

As my journey came to an end, after walking through the entire 74-acre property, McMenamins Edgefield is now on my top list for unique bars and restaurants. With its wide array of bars, and its consistent hosting of various musical events, Edgefield truly has something to offer for all ages.

“I like the variety,” Said Troutdale local, John Taylor. “You can go there for drinks with your friends on a Friday night, or head there on Sundays with your family for brunch.”

Active Vacations- The New Vacationing Future?

photo courtesy of Brian and Renee Bouma

-Tiana Bouma

“They call it Backroads, but we like to call it Snackroads.” Brian Bouma, a two-time client of Backroads, said. “Every time you ride for an hour they have a bus set up with snacks and drinks and they drive by waving all the time.”

Tom Hale, the Founder and President formed Backroads, after spending three decades trying to find more rewarding alternatives to traditional vacations. There is no better way to immerse yourself in the life of a region and explore hidden corners while traveling under your own power. Backroads is part of an active vacation movement that is finding a way to more authentically connect with the world.

The types of trips range from biking tours, multisport tours, walking and hiking tours, private trips, and family trips. You can choose exotic locations in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America or see hidden treasure of the US from a view perspective.

Brian Bouma and Renee Bouma, a couple from Bend, Oregon recently returned from a six-day trip through Northern Vermont.   The Bouma’s biked an average of 45 to 60 miles a day starting in Burlington, Vermont and winding past Lake Champlain, Vermont’s Greek Mountains, and classic New England farms.

“One of the days we have to climb Appalachian gap, which is a challenging climb that they actually have a professional road race on and I climbed it and I didn’t think my wife would make it up cause it was so challenging.” Brian Bouma said, “The trip leader rode with my wife and encouraged her and climbed the entire road without getting off. 17% incline and he did this three times with three different people.”

Clients can tell the trip leaders are engaged and care about their groups. Meals and lodgings are all arranged in beautiful towns and inns native to the area that many would normally pass up for a more generic company. Experience ranges from professional and extreme bike riders to individuals and families that have never ridden a bike before.

“You can go whatever speed you want.” Renee Bouma said, “They always support you, it’s not like you’re in a group race.” Besides the tour guides that ride with the group there is a van and usually another car following with snacks, spare tires and bikes, and a comfy seat if a rider gets tired and wants to take a break.

photo courtesy of Brian and Renee Bouma

The rides each day are about the scenery and experiencing something new. Clients are encouraged to stop, take pictures and walk around. The Northern Vermont trip included fifteen people from all over the country. The small group sizes keep the trip personal.

“Twenty percent of the roads were dirt. “ Brian Bouma said, “You’d be in a Middle of a dirt road miles off a paved road and you’d come across a farmhouse and a church that was built in 1805 or 1790.” These are sites that would have been missed in a car or plane.

At the end of the day riders hand the trip leaders their bikes and continue vacationing. All riders need to travel with are clothes. Backroads even offers gel pads for bike seats. Although the Bouma’s Vermont trip was close to home, a trip through Europe or other continents is recommended. The Bouma’s first trip a few years ago with their two daughters, current University of Oregon students, traversed Austria and the Czech Republic.

“What we really enjoy about these trips is that they map out these amazing routes that you would never ride or figure out on your own unless you’ve been a resident for 20 years.” Renee Bouma said, “True to their name, you were on backroads.”

Amsterdam: A Journey

 -Brooke Brown

It was a bright summer morning under a clear blue German sky. There we were, five fun-seeking, well-intentioned young Americans. In high spirits we set off in the direction of a notorious city.

We had great expectations.

What we didn’t know was that not a single one of us was mentally or physically prepared for what we were about to experience. Amsterdam took us to a place I like to describe as somewhere between chaos and a fantastic dream.

Chaos: It’s a place with barely any restrictions, where you can satisfy your every whim or desire around any corner. Randomness abounds.

Dream: The city on a whole is like how you might create a city in your mind (Inception anyone?). At first it could pass as somewhat normal, and then you realize that most things are slightly off-kilter, and some are completely out of place.

It’s as if there’s a reality threshold that you pass on the way into the city without even knowing it, no smoking or ingesting of any substances necessary. Although much of that was done….It’s sold in coffee shops, what do you expect?

After six straight hours of getting pumped up in the car, our first order of business was to act like moronic Americans and accidentally drive our car through the extremely narrow streets of the red light district. That’s right, we got a windshield tour while almost running over scowling, bike-friendly only pedestrians. Classic.

After we disposed of the car we walked our way past window after window of dancing scantily-clad prostitutes until we reached our hotel. We were sleeping in a room sandwiched between two sex shops, and across the street from both The Sex Palace and The Hemp Museum.  Ahh the wonders of online booking.

In Amsterdam, everything that is underground or out of sight in the states is staring you right in the face. There’s a coffee shop on every corner, selling everything from space muffins to joints to weed tea. There are certain streets of the Red Light District where you can find exactly what kind of prostitute you are looking for –an older woman, an Asian woman, or even a transvestite.

The weekend felt like one magnificent blur of a night that lasted for a straight 72 hours. A member of our group was punched in the face by an Italian, a few of us gallivanted around the city in a bike taxi singing The Beatles, someone almost got an unmentionable piercing, and another was dancing on a stage with a 70-year-old Native American dance fiend named Abraham. We even stumbled into an incredible ‘Condomerie’ displaying what must be the world’s most elaborate condoms.

From my short but sweet sober recollections I can tell you that Amsterdam is a truly international city, meaning people come to party from all over the world. I met people from Ireland, Poland, Britain, Romania and even Alaska – all on their own quests to have an adventure in Amsterdam. More people spoke English here than anywhere I’ve been in Europe so far.

While 98% of the trip was a party, there was some cultural stuff thrown in there too. We visited the Van Gogh museum, which was definitely worth the 45-minute wait. It takes you through his life, shows you his first paintings and gives an insightful look into the symbolism behind his work.

We experienced an epic pub crawl around the city, I conducted a thorough investigation on which were the best coffee shops, we found an incredibly talented Irish singer *(link: www.myspace.com/gyrospect), and expanded our beer knowledge by visiting the Heineken factory. We loved it so much we stayed an extra day.

As we drove away we briefly considered turning around.  We could just leave everything behind, share a place together, open a coffee shop (someone may have to be dancing in the window for rent) – the party could never end. But then we must have drove past that reality threshold, because real life smacked us in the face again.

Amsterdam: What You Need to Know

1.     Ride a bike. Period.

2.     Never take pictures of the prostitutes, they will literally throw urine at you. They pee in a cup solely for this purpose.

3.     Never eat the whole space muffin. You’ll thank me later.

4.     Visit the Van Gogh museum after eating your space muffin.

5.     Eat at the Pancake Bakery, they are the best pancakes you will ever have in your life (and there’s quite a variety, like a “Mexican” with guacamole or a banana and nutella).

6.     Carry 30 maps of the city with you, just in case.

7.     Be careful about who you bring with you, some people will not be able to hang. Those you do bring, keep track of them. It is far too easy to drunkenly end up in the canals.

8.     Be prepared to drink ONLY Heineken, and also be prepared to never want another Heineken again.

9.     You can smoke a joint walking down the street or sell your body in a window, but open alcohol containers are not allowed (because THAT makes sense).

10.  Be careful – some people go to Amsterdam and never leave. We met some Australians who visited for a weekend and decided to stay, find a job, and leave their lives behind. Not advisable.

The Art of the Fest

 

 

Weldefest, with "Welde girls" performing

 

-Brooke Brown   

Germans are really good at a lot of things. Making great cars, being environmentally conscious, always being efficient, making pork delicious in countless ways, making beer, drinking beer, and pretending techno is cool… Just to name a few. But my favorite German talent is their propensity to throw kick-ass fests.

 

Fest (noun): An activity that most often combines live music, food, beer, and people of all ages celebrating a singular object and/or for the general purpose of celebrating.

We’ve all heard of the world-famous Oktoberfest (beginning only 5 days after I leave Germany, it’s a sore subject). Oktoberfest is, admittedly, the King of Fests. You need a ticket at least a year in advance to get a seat, and you sit around all day trying all different kinds of the best German beer they have to offer. Meanwhile, the rowdy crowd sings along to traditional German drinking songs and makes friends with a “Prost!” (a.k.a. cheers) to everyone around them.

Sounds like my idea of heaven.

But what is even better is that Germans don’t just have Oktoberfest. All year they have different kinds of fests celebrating things that they love. There are wine fests, spargle fests (that’s a German white asparagus, they go gaga for it over here), lake fests, music fests, firework fests, castle fests, and of course, beer fests. There was even a love fest, but we all probably heard how that one went awry (Love Parade).

Most fests are during the summer, and luckily I’ve had the opportunity to attend a couple and fest with the best.

My first fest experience occurred in a city called Freiburg, on the edge of the Black Forest. My friend Randee and I decided to take the train down and stay in our first hostel in this lively, college city full of history and equipped with a gorgeous cathedral.

Freiburg's awe-inspiring cathedral.

 

The streets were full of stores selling hemp attire, an open market with dancing, high-on-something hobos, students roaming around drunk at night, and tons of friendly people. If there was ever a German equivalent of Eugene, Oregon I had found it. Alas, we had come full circle.

Best of all, there was a castle fest (Schlossfest) occurring at the ruins directly behind our hostel. And it turned out to be a huge party of all ages that raged until the wee hours. Live German reggae music (not quite as weird as it sounds) and American classics jammed on different levels of the ruins and people merrily drank Bavarian beer in celebration of summer, their castle, and whatever the hell else they wanted to celebrate. It doesn’t take long to appreciate this tradition.

The next fest I attended what was called the Weldefest, in celebration of Welde, a locally brewed beer (and locally here means pretty much in your backyard). The fest was held outside the huge Welde brewery and drew thousands of people, with a stage for live music and plenty of food and beer.

It may have been a more modern, American-party type of feel, but it still catered to all ages. There was a dance club area, a children’s play area, and the general seating area for chilling out in front of the stage.

What I find so fascinating is that in the States we’re so concerned about restrictions (drinking age, minors near drinking, etc.) that often we end up losing our chance at having these kinds of awesome environments where old people are dancing on their seats next to 20-year-olds and the kids are over playing in the mini soccer field. Everyone is having a blast, no rules (or babysitters) necessary.

Freiburg, the view from fest-level.

 

At the end of the night we said goodbye to our new, random, assorted-aged drunken German friends whom we jammed our air guitars with on the tables to ‘Summer of ‘69’, and we all rode home on our bikes. Not the easiest bike ride, but everyone realizes the advantage of not driving to a fest here.

Sure, we have concerts, parties, carnivals, banquets and various celebrations that we sometimes refer to as ‘festivals’. But Germans have mastered the wonderful, glorious art of the fest.

Now it’s time for America to catch on. Hang your beerstein on your bike handle and let’s go.

That Sinking Feeling

 

Venice's version of a highway, the Grand Canal.

 -Brooke Brown

Venice is sinking. It’s an amusing and somewhat disturbing fact that most people are aware of, but it doesn’t really sink in (I couldn’t help myself) until you experience it.

As I rode around in a decked-out, crushed-velvet gondola for an overpriced (but completely necessary) boat ride, the evidence of the damage was right before my eyes. Stone apartments line the tiny canals and all of them have a mossy, abandoned-looking bottom floor that is now utterly useless. It was incredibly beautiful and foreboding at the same time.

The city is the ultimate tourist trap. A romantic cluster of islands filled with tiny, maze-like streets and beautifully adorned, century-old churches and bridges. There’s a reason it’s been the source of inspiration for art and literature and the background in many a movie. Getting lost in its endlessly confusing and enticing streets is a bona fide part of the sightseeing. It’s a tough challenge to try and not be mesmerized by its glory.

An average Venice alleyway with the decaying first floors of homes.

But Venice floods several times a year due to rapidly rising water levels (the Adriatic sea has risen at least 16 feet from when the city was founded). Another culprit for much of the sinking was the use of the now-banned artesian wells used in the 20th century. To fend off the dangerously high tides, inflatable barriers will block off the lagoons starting in 2011 and hopefully hold up for the next 100 years.

All this water damage and sinking business got me thinking about the concept of building a city on the water. Apart from the fact that the foundation of the buildings is a muddy seabed, it seems not much thought was put into the idea of rising sea levels. I mean, even way back in the day it’s hard to imagine that no one considered building an entire city on the water a little counter-intuitive.

Centuries ago, when the city was first beginning, was there ever a voice of reason? Perhaps in the race to become the most glamorous and successful city of its day, all practicalities and concerns fell to the wayside.

Traditional gondolas, all strictly Venetian made.

Now, like a living museum with a timeline, Venice is glamorously displayed at the mercy of Earth’s most destructive weapon: Water.

It’s that classic case of fashion before function. Look Venice, we know how much you love prancing around in your Dolce & Gabbana stilettos, but at some point you have to come down to reality with the rest of us.

From Football to Futball

-Brooke Brown

I’ve never been a fan of futball. Football, on the other hand, is a different story (I love my Ducks, and I’m still smelling roses).

The low-scoring, low-contact game of soccer just hasn’t ever quite sucked me in like an action-packed game at Autzen can. But being in Europe for the World Cup has transformed me into a futball fan.

It’s a big transition from the world of 300-pounders and 50-yard touchdown passes to goals scored by headers and games that have a strong possibility of ending in a tie. But there is something special about this game that Americans don’t have in all of our pro-sports leagues: patriotic spirit. This is country on country here, not just franchise on franchise. These teams are fighting for bragging rights and prestige for four years, and they do so draped in the colors of their home. That’s some serious pressure.

The world cup in Europe is like The Olympics on crack. There’s deep-seeded country rivalries, and fans who watch their country’s players compete from the club level all the way up to the country’s elite squad.

In Germany, there were faces painted with the German flag days leading up to a game. There were huge big screens set up in the middle of every town so that everyone could cheer on their country together. And there were parties…lots of parties. We’re talking a massive party in the streets when Germany beat Argentina.

A man literally wheeled a keg up to the dancing crowd of ecstatic futball fans and starting giving away beer. Lines of cars drove by with people hanging out of the windows and sunroofs draped in German flags and cheering to anyone that would listen. It felt like how the city of Portland would react if they won the NBA Championship, except the Germans didn’t need to win a championship for its fans to go crazy. This was just the quarter-finals.

But their exciting run for the World Cup championship is over after a loss to the team that won it all, Spain. Sure, the fans were disappointed and the drunken Deutschland cheers are slightly muffled. But they make it clear that they are still proud of their team and of their nation, no championship necessary.

Looking back, it may be a good thing that Germany lost to Spain. Otherwise, these fans could have done some serious damage. It’s all fun and games until someone burns down a castle.

Let Me Just Google Map Croatia…

-Brooke Brown 

 

Pictured is the island of Susak. Croatia lies on the Adriatic Sea and extends all the way from Slovenia and Hungary to the North, all the way down to Montenegro in the South.

 

In the span of 48 hours I was in Seattle, Frankfurt, and Zagreb, Croatia.

Needless to say, the start of my European summer was a zombie-like daze dealing with a serious time zone mix-up. Especially after leaving Eugene, Oregon in the typical frenzy of packing for three months with a brain like Jello from a good-old 8 a.m. math final that day.

I’ll be living in Heidelberg, Germany for the summer doing the college summer Euro-vacation and soaking in every second of it. Heidelberg is known for being on the verge of a little too touristy, but I’m convinced there’s more to explore here than what your average tourist looks for. Sure, many of the Germans speak English and there are plenty of cliché touristy items lining the streets (admittedly, I already purchased a ‘Das Boot’).

But there’s also one of the oldest castles in Germany and a thriving college bar scene, which I’ll be sure to drunkenly embarrass myself at some point or another as a stupid ‘Americana’ (the beer is a lot stronger here, I can’t help it).

But as I flew into Zagreb, Croatia for a brief visit, it felt like anything but a stereotypical Euro-trip kind of vacation. It could just be my naïve American perspective announcing its annoying presence to me once again, but I don’t think I’ve ever known of anyone going on vacation to Croatia.

I thought I knew my geography fairly well until I realized Google Maps was the only way I could really accurately pinpoint where the country was. I guess I can’t be too mad at myself, most Americans probably don’t even know there is a country named Croatia.

It’s sandwiched between Eastern and Western Europe, making it an odd jumble of cultures that used to have control over the country. It’s incredible the Croatians have been able to hang on to their language and culture at all since the first time they ever really had control of their own country was in 1991. They’ve been littered with war, surviving brutal and bloody ethnic cleansing, a Nazi puppet government, and finally winning a bloody battle for their independence from Yugoslavia.

But now it would be hard to guess that war was taking place here just a couple decades ago.  Europe’s new Italy is filled with plush resorts on glimmering turquoise water and plenty of culture that comes along with them. It’s cheaper than Italy and its beaches are just as beautiful, which draws tons of Europeans during summertime.

I almost had a heart attack at seeing the Roman ruins in Split, where the city itself was built around the remains of Diocletian’s palace from 300 A.D.

Well-built is a bit of an understatement. It’s hard not to compare our own buildings and architecture to this insanely old and intact emperor’s retirement home (there’s a nice alternative to Florida golf courses). Our buildings in the U.S. start deteriorating after forty or fifty years, let alone 1600. They even have fully intact remains of the palace’s stone olive press and several coffins, which makes me wonder if Ghost Hunters has ever thought of tapping this potentially very spooky and plentiful resource.

The basement of Diocletian’s palace. I wouldn’t want to walk these halls at night.

 

In Split, you can be eating gelato at a café that was built right into the ruins of Diocletian’s palace. How ‘bout that for some history? The white wine and seafood here is a deadly, mouthwatering combination that I’d probably consider as another very serious reason why I need to visit this country again.

The one other place I explored in Croatia is Susak, one of the very smallest inhabited islands off the coast (there are over 1200 islands in all). It’s the type of place where you could hide out if you were wanted for some crime; you’d at least get a couple years of beach-bum solitude before anyone would discover you.

There are no cars on the island and only one small, sleepy town where they still use a well to pump out water. It felt almost a world away from everything.

I ordered a beer at the one bar on the island and when the bartender asked where I was from I said Oregon. He responded nonchalantly in a thick Croatian accent with “Oh yeah, they have that good football team, the Ducks.” I smiled and realized it only takes a small reminder to see that home is never really too far.