On the way back home, Brooke, Ali, Mike, and I had the same flight. Thankfully, we got to sleep in – we had to be at the airport at 11:00 am. An RIT bus picked us up from our hotel and took us through the airport. The flight from Zagreb to Munich, Germany was a breeze: no delays or anything. However, the plane did come in later than expected and our connecting flight from Munich to Washington D.C. started boarding while we were still on the flight. The group somehow got separated and I had to run from one terminal to the other all the way on the other side of the airport. I got there just in time and luckily so did the others. My 9 hour flight was actually pretty great; there were no screaming babies.
When we arrived in Washington Dulles it was pouring and we got soaked getting on our last plane. The guy sitting next to me on the flight was actually really nice and we talked the entire flight. His name was Alec and he just graduated from Michigan State. We chatted about our study abroad experiences (he went to Germany a couple years ago). I reached the Rochester airport late at night; Philip picked me up around 11:45 pm.
Overall, my study abroad experience was amazing and I’m so glad I did it. Learning about the Croatian culture, going to the national parks, and drinking and eating local foods was an unbelievable opportunity. I would definitely recommend traveling to Croatia and just going abroad in general.
I’d would also like to thank you all for being a part of my once in a lifetime adventure. Although they were a pain in the ass, I genuinely am glad I did these blogs. Now I get to look back years from now and reminisce.
At the pre-departure meeting, my advisor said that studying abroad would be a life-changing experience and I would grow as a person immensely. Although at the time I thought what she said was complete and utter bullshit, after being in Europe for a month I wholeheartedly agree with her. Being away from the people and places you love make you appreciate them a lot more. Don’t take what you have for granted because we are all so incredibly blessed.
Saturday was our last day together as a group before we all flew back home. A bus picked us up at 12:30 pm, taking us to an unknown destination; we had absolutely no idea as to what we were doing that day. We arrived an hour or two later at Kezele Winery and Farm. To actually enter the farm, the staff told us we had to take a shot of homemade grappa. All of the alcohol was made right there at the farm.
Lunch was outside and set up like a buffet. We ate everything from lamb to roasted pig and potatoes with an amazing strudel for dessert. After lunch, the staff gave us a tour of the grounds. We got to take a quick look at their own little museum, pottery shed, and farm. After the tour, we were taken to the wine cellar/production area to taste two of their best white wines: Skrlet and Moscato. Both were somewhat sweet and fruity.
We were pretty much at Kezele’s the whole day and when we got back it was relatively late. For dinner, Brooke, Ali, and I had McDonalds. Don’t judge, it was the closest food place to our hotel and we were exhausted haha.
Thursday, June 25th was a Croatian national holiday and we didn’t have any class. As a result, I slept in until 2:30 pm. For breakfast/lunch I walked over to the bus terminal where there are a bunch of different shops and restaurants. Here they have an amazing chain called Good Food where you can get salads, wraps, and sandwiches. The description of the food was in Croatian which made ordering a surprise. During my time in the city, I probably ate here about 4-5 times because the food was so fresh. I decided to order my Caesar salad to-go and sit in the city gardens people watching.
The rest of the day I spent doing my final paper and presentation. At night, to celebrate the holiday, there was a fireworks show that I could see from my hotel room.
On Friday I had my final presentation on what I learned during my time abroad. I talked about how because I was so ready to get out and go to college/travel I never really took the time to appreciate Buffalo. I only just went to the new Canalside and food trucks once right before I left for Croatia. When I get back, I want to spend more time exploring my own hometown.
After the presentations, we took the tram with Rob to a local brewery and restaurant called Pivnica. We each ordered a couple of their specialty beers to try. The third picture below shows from left to right the light beer, fruit beer, and dark beer. For a snack, I tried a local favorite, grilled corn on the cob. Corn stands like the one I went to are all over the city. It tasted a little like popcorn but with a thicker consistency.
For Rob’s farewell dinner we went to Boban again. I ordered a shrimp scampi which was equally as delicious as the last pasta dish. The rest of the night Allie, Brooke, Ryan, Sam, and I hung out in the hotel playing cards and drinking wine.
Tuesday was basically an all class day at the RIT Zagreb campus. Rob gave us more details on our final presentations and paper due later in the week.
Wednesday, we didn’t have class but we still had to go the campus for a conference call. The study abroad office wanted our input on how the trip could be improved for next year. I told them about the bed bugs in Pag and the Wi-Fi situation.
After the conference call, Brooke, Allie and I had time to shop. City center has a huge H&M three floors high we went to. I actually got lost and separated from the two for a little bit amiss the racks and racks of clothing.
Five o’clock Stasa had us go to a cute little restaurant for an assignment: to taste orange wine. No, the wine isn’t actually made from oranges despite the name. It gets its orange color from being buried underground for a couple months in a wooden box. The wine was very dry and had earthy notes. After we tasted the wine, they gave us all free shots.
Dinner was at a place called Boban famous for its homemade pasta. I ordered penne with a cream sauce, chicken, bacon, and mushrooms that tasted amazing. Stasa told us about life during the war and the terrible tragedies he and his family had to endure.
After dinner, all of us hung out in Brooke and Allie’s room playing cards and drinking jug wine.
Ryan, Allie, Brooke, and I went to the country of Slovenia for the day on Monday. Slovenia is a small former Yugoslavian country to the upper right of Croatia. Our excursion came with all private tours and our own van which was really nice and not like the other two countries we visited.
The first stop was Ljubljana which is the capital of Slovenia. Ljubljana was by far the most gorgeous city I have visited on this trip. The buildings are extremely colorful and have their own unique style. Singers and street performers are everywhere and people generally just seemed happier. An architect named Joze Plecnik designed most of the bridges, sculptures, and public buildings in the city. His work has a fun, slightly weird look to it. The heads alley fountain and the brick/stone library pictured below was designed by him.
Our tour guide was absolutely amazing; she was around our age so she really focused the tour on things we would actually care about. Two hours we spent walking with her and it felt like 10 minutes.
Next, we went to the Postojna Caves: a 25 km cave system found in the 17th century. In the beginning and end of the tour, we rode a cute little train through sections of the caves. The train ride reminded me a bit of the It’s a Small World ride in Disney World. We learned a lot about how the cave was formed and the animals down there. I got to see a Proteus anguinus which looks a bit like an albino salamander. Proteus anguinus can live up to 100 years and can go without food for 7-12 years. Unfortunately, I couldn’t snap a good picture in time.
Our last destination was Predjama Castle which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest cave castle. We each received a walkie-talkie looking device that gave us information based on the room we were in. The castle itself is massive with some walkways and spaces outside. Looking outside the front windows, one could see the entire village.
When the tour ended and we arrived back in Zagreb, we picked up some sandwiches and wine and hung out in the hotel with everyone for the remainder of the night.
On Sunday June 21st, we had a free day and no class. I slept until 12:30 pm and it was absolutely heavenly – probably the only good night’s sleep during this trip.
Because one of my classmates, Ben, is deaf, there are two interpreters abroad with us: Bill and Alisa. Alisa has stayed in Zagreb before for similar programs so she knows her way around the city. Ryan, Sam, and I accompanied her and Bill in the afternoon to a hidden little pizza place off the beaten path.
After, we went to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibits were extremely well done and some were quite powerful. In the mask exhibit, each podium contained a real person’s face and story of physical abuse. The victims escaped their abusers and now live a specific homeless shelter with a necessary support system.
Exiting the museum was an experience. There was a slide from the third floor to the ground floor :)
For dinner, we went to a local Croatian restaurant for shish kabobs. We stumbled across a dessert place after called The Cookie Factory that just sells warm baked goods with ice cream. Popular music blasted while crowds of people entered and exited. I’ve personally never seen anything like this in the States.
That night we tried to find a casino, but because it was a Sunday no places were open. Walking around Zagreb at night was beautiful though and getting to look at everything from a different perspective was well worth the walk.
Thursday and Friday night I stayed in a hostel in Fuzine. The hostel was actually really nice; we had a couple rooms to ourselves and the Wi-Fi was decent. Breakfast and dinner was free and prepared by the owners. The actual village of Fuzine is very small and quite simply in the middle of nowhere, however, tourists and backpackers mostly still come here to explore the caves and hiking trails.
Early Friday morning we set out to visit Cave Vrelo. Made by water alone, the cave is around 3 to 4 million years old. There are no natural outside entrances so few were constructed to let out the rain water which fills the caves halfway during the winter/spring. Some sections of the cave were extremely small and slippery, forcing us to crouch down and almost crawl to get through. Our guide was really friendly and let us turn out all of the cave lights for 30 seconds to see how dark the cave naturally is: pitch black and void of any light whatsoever.
We then went to the village of Kamacnik where we walked around an old Yugoslavian military base in the middle of the forest. This forest is the only forest in Europe gaining biomass while still being used by humans. After a quick look at the base, we took a nice hike through the forest, finding a pretty large salamander at one point.
Near the end of our hike, the weather took a turn and it started to pour. We took refuge in a nearby restaurant which had an amazing view and strudel with blueberries straight from the forest.
Saturday, we started our day off with another hike. The hike, oddly enough, began on train tracks and transitioned into a forest. The steep incline during this hike was incredibly difficult, requiring an extreme amount of focus and balance. Our halfway point was the third ever hydroelectricity power plant station in the world which is actually still functional today.
Post hike we hopped back on the bus for our final destination of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Zagreb mixes the old with the new, creating an eclectic historical vibe while still being a modern city. Here there is a RIT campus where I’ll be going to class for the remainder of the trip. Our hotel is extremely close to the city center where shops and restaurants line the streets.
We arrived in Zagreb in the afternoon allowing us to walk around for a bit and grab an espresso at this cute little coffee shop. Dinner was at California Burrito because at that point we were really sick of traditional Croatian food – you can only have so many meat dishes and pizzas.
Wednesday we spent the full day touring/hiking through the Plitvice Lakes National Park. This park takes the gold in my book for the most beautiful place in the world. From the clear turquoise waters to the rushing waterfalls, I was in complete awe the whole day. On Thursday, we went back to walk around on our own. Brooke and Allie got lost in the park which was pretty funny because we called it from the beginning (they had their phones and were found quickly, don’t worry haha).
It was so difficult picking out my favorite pictures for this post although the pictures don’t even do the park justice. Also, I knew I wanted this post to be mostly pictures – no words are really necessary.
On Tuesday we went to a cheese factory so the next day we saw the traditional way to make cheese at a local family’s house. This family has been in the cheese business for generations and still uses a tree branch to stir the cheese early in production. The production rooms are very small and it took some effort fitting the whole group into the space.
Next, we drove to Smiljan which is Nikola Tesla’s birthplace and hometown. The village is practically in the middle of nowhere; the only attraction is the Nikola Tesla Museum. If you don’t know who Nikola Tesla is, he was a famous physicist and engineer who most notably invented the alternating current electricity supply system. The main museum is in a reconstruction of his house (the white building in the statue photo) and I was fairly impressed with the overall layout and interactivity.
For lunch, we ate pork on a stick which is a local favorite. It was absolutely revolting: super cold, fatty, and salty. Apparently, Stasa fed this to us on purpose to teach us a lesson that us Americans are spoiled. To be honest, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way.
We drove to our next hotel in the Plitvice Lakes National Park area. This was the night that I noticed bite marks all over my body that itched terribly. I showed Stasa and he said they were a combination of mosquito bites and bed bugs from our hotel in Pag. The pictures below show the mess that was and still is my elbow and arm.
All of us ending up going to bed pretty early because we had to wake up for another long hike the next day.
Monday morning we went to the Luna olive groves. Our tour guide told us that each olive tree in the groves grow with slightly different genetics than the others. A lot of genetic research is done here due to this unique situation. We also learned about the whole growing process. It takes years for an olive tree to produce its first harvest. The baby olive trees look more like prickly bushes to ward off hungry sheep.
Last year, there was a devastating amount of rain in Croatia; only 2% of the olives could be harvested. Therefore, I wasn’t able to buy any olive oil :(
Next stop was the Gilgora dairy factory. We had to put on hair nets, thin lab coats, and shoe coverings for sanitary purposes while looking super hot in the process. The factory has many production rooms and a cheese ageing room.
Their most famous cheese is the Paski Sir from sheep’s milk. At the world cheese festival in Wisconsin (yes, this actually exists haha), this cheese has taken home the prize for world’s best cheese a couple years in a row. We were given samples and the cheese was really good; I can understand why it won so many awards.
For lunch, a couple of us went to a place called McDarko’s. The restaurant was obviously breaking so many copyright and trademark laws, but it was really funny and clever. McDarko’s had only slight variations in the logo and menu. I ordered a cheeseburger and fries that tasted pretty decent. Of course, because we are in Croatia and the locals love their alcohol, the restaurant had a bar right in the center.
Rob, Ryan, and I walked around the city after lunch in search of some olive oil, but we came up with nothing. Ryan and I then decided to swim and chill on the beach.
A couple people decided to go to the party beach again that night but I ended up staying in. I was really tired and didn’t feel like going out again.