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.
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.