The first time I traveled internationally was through International Student Volunteers. I spent a glorious four weeks in Croatia and Slovenia. Before I left the States, I held a fundraiser, and many times all I heard was “Where is that?!” (across from Italy, duh). Most people know about Eastern Europe for it’s unrest during the 90s, but today it is reemerging as a vibrant and welcoming group of countries, and travelers are just now adding Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Romania to their list of places to travel.
Eastern Europe holds a special place in my heart – mostly because it was my first trip alone and out of the United States, but also because I feel that I genuinely got to know the country, the land, and the people without the fog that sometimes surrounds a place from too many tourists.
Here’s a list of my favorite things I did when in Croatia and Slovenia!
Volunteering at Suncokret in Gvozd, Croatia
By no means was it an easy task attempting to translate all English words into Croatian and vice versa, but it was made easier by our bilingual Suncokret volunteers and managers. Some kids were more outspoken and outgoing than others, but we still managed to create relationships with them during the two weeks we were there. My favorite memories include tye-dying (none of them had ever done it before, and had only “seen it in the movies”) and the water balloon fight.
A View of Korcula from the beach
Many travelers will advise you to visit Dubrovnik, and although it is drenched in history and beautiful buildings, I was more impressed by the quaint island of Korcula. Apparently this island is birthplace to Marco Polo, and there are many stories you will hear, along with a billion souvenirs laden with his name. The island is surrounded by warm, welcoming water, plenty of bikes to rent for the day to explore the island (SO much fun, although there are some tough hills), and many lively bars and restaurants to choose from. My favorite memory was staying up all night to watch the sunrise from our boat.
Oh. My. God. Sladoled. Probably the best invention ever made. And when you’re in Croatia, you have every flavor under the sun. Perfect for a hot day…YUM!
And did I even mention the pizza?
In Croatia, there is no limit to the toppings you can get. Getting plain cheese isn’t necessarily looked down upon; HOWEVER, there are so many amazing things to throw on that baby! Everything from shredded carrot, artichokes, broccoli, corn, etc, etc. And don’t even wrinkle up your nose at the thought of all those things together. It is AMAZING. And from someone hailing from Chicago, that’s saying a lot.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
This national park is filled with pristine blue water, Croatia’s tallest waterfall, and plenty of fish and puz (snails). A Tip about Plitvice: During high season, it’s common for there to be a flock of tourists – we had everything planned in advance and couldn’t back out when it was pouring all day. This was definitely a blessing in disguise, because we practically had the entire park to ourselves. Throw on the rain jacket, bring an umbrella, and you’re good to go! Booyah!
Near the Soca River, Bovec is a beautiful town, laden with adventure sport enthusiasts, restaurants, and a few shops and cafes. This is where we went hydrospeeding on the Soca River (which was a terrifying experience for me) and also caving in the moutainside. We went out to the Skripi Bar, which was a 20 minute or so walk from our apartment. What I liked most about Bovec was it’s ability to cater to all types of people – whatever you wanted to do from paragliding, dancing, drinking, caving, hydrospeeding, golfing, hiking, and more. It’s a very versatile town with a ton to offer every kind of person!
Going a little off the beaten path is definitely worth it when you’re here, and sometimes avoiding the most touristy places can lead you to some of the most amazing experiences, towns, and people you never even thought you’d encounter. So, which of these places look most appealing to you?