thirty-five days.

though my revamping of 7 days around the balkans is not over, my time abroad is, and for this reason, it felt appropriate to have a post that summed it all up.

that’s been the hard thing though- summing it all up.

the 35 days that i spent abroad are collectively among the best of my life thus far. compared to the amount i paid for this trip, what i got out of it feels like I got the best deal on earth. not only did i get to visit 7 different countries, study with some of the most intelligent profs, visit areas of incredible historical context, and pet COUNTLESS dogs – because these were all key parts to this incredible experience – but what i really gained is not as easily summed into words.

i gained perspective. i gained the ability to look at this world around me and appreciate simple beauty in unexpected places. i gained the ability to look at the last 35 days and, though it breaks my heart that it is over, it also makes my heart burst with happiness to think how incredibly lucky i am to have experienced what i did.

as well, i gained friendship. in every post i’ve written about how the people on this trip are truly what made it for me, and in this post again i will stand by that. at the end of 35 days, leaving people who had unexpectedly taken up huge parts of my heart was literally heart wrenching. in the last 35 days, i’ve gained some of the purest relationships i’ve ever known. i’ve learned what it is to truly live in the moment and give up control for just long enough to really feel. if you have never done this, and are presented with the opportunity, do it. it’s hard to describe the way in which my heart hurts now as a result of this, but it would be impossible to regret it. vulnerability is something that i have gained a new appreciation for following the last 35 days.

i knew going in that this trip was going to change me. this is to be expected when all you have ever know is small town in iowa and within 35 days you are entirely immersed in all things new. but i had no concept of how much it was going to change me, or how permanently.

for 35 days, i got to experience something so entirely special that it’s impossible to truly describe in words. i got to experience something that makes my heart wrench so terribly as i write this, because i already miss it so much, but that i am so incredibly thankful for.

scrolling through my social media yesterday i ran across a post and it resonated with me when i thought about it in relation to the last 35 days.

it read: it’s hard when you miss something. but if you miss them, it means you’re lucky. it means you had something special in your life. something worth missing.

and i feel beyond special to have experienced who, and what i have in the last 35 days. kosovo & the people i met there hold a place in my heart that won’t be going away any time soon. this does not just include the friends i got to share this program with- but Beznick at the hotel, Daut who makes the BEST macchiato’s in the world, Erol, Elda, Engin, Mark, Mjellma, Albina. Thank you to you all.

always see you laters, never goodbyes. faleminderit.

the balkans in 7 days: croatia

dubrovnik, croatia was one of the places where we spent the least amount of time, but that held one of the greatest beauties out of all the places we visited in 7 days.

the difference between dubrovnik and the other places we visited is that dubrovnik is much more touristy than other areas of the balkans, even regarded as one of the biggest tourist hubs within the balkans region. specific to dubrovnik, there are countless draws within the city that are easily at the cause of this increased tourist travel; including the Walls of Dubrovnik, the seaport, the museums and monasteries, and personally my favorite, the gelato stands on EVERY CORNER. i would tell you that we didn’t get ice cream 3 times within that day.. but i’d be lying.

croatia

the most beautiful aspect of dubrovnik that we got to experience would have to be the walls. the walls surround the city of dubrovnik and from the walls, you can see the city in the most incredible way. the walls were mainly constructed during the 12th-17th centuries, but have been maintained incredibly well up to this day. they stretch 1940 meters long and it took about 2 hours to see the whole thing. if you ever find yourself in dubrovnik, the walls are an absolute must to add to your list. you won’t find a more unique and incredible way to view all aspects that dubrovnik has to offer (old town, the harbour, the beaches, the incredible Adriatic, etc.). of course, i’ve included numerous pictures but they really do not give the incredible views any justice.

i largely spent the day with my new friends exploring the city. isabella, jenna, austin, liam, george, and myself grew really close over this week and they incredibly enhanced this experience for me. we walked the wall together, visited museums, ate too much ice cream, and made countless jokes together. i’ve included pictures of them too, just because i’m so thankful for the incredibly positive way in which they added to my week.

also yes, we are in front of the stairs where the “walk of shame” scene from Game of Thrones took place. fun fact. 🙂

this was one of the funnest days that we had throughout the week, easily. though it was much less structured than some of our other days, it was spent growing closer to our new friends and getting to explore the beautiful city together.

towards the end of the day. we found a neat little restaurant of the side of the wall. we climbed down onto the rocks and sat for a while, watching people jump off the cliffs nearby. it was a great ending to the day, getting to soak in the beauty of dubrovnik away from the masses. overall, the day was incredible and the people i got to experience it with made it even more incredible. i knew even on this 3rd day in the region that the balkans had already captured a piece of my heart.

the balkans in 7 days: montenegro

out of my 7 days exploring the balkans region, my time in montenegro may have been my very favorite.

first of all, let me start with how BEAUTIFUL this country is. everything about it was so incredibly stunning in the most simple way. montenegro was a little different from every other day of our trip, in that we had the whole day there free to do whatever we wanted. this freedom quickly became a trip to the beach. the water so so incredibly clear and blue, and the beach we found came with floating seats about 30 yards out. we spent the next 5 hours lounging in these seats, bobbing with the waves, appreciating the mountain view, and developing incredible new friendships.

i’ve said it before but i’ll say it again, i really cannot stress how much i appreciate the people here. in the few hours out in the water, i had one of the most open talks with a relative stranger, who has since become a close friend. we traded life stories and asked questions to the point we lost track of time, and it was easily one of the best moments i can pinpoint from this trip so far.

later, we took a trip up to old town. it seems like every area we visited during this week had an area of the city known as “old town” that resembled a much more retro feel and not the feeling of a booming city that the other areas conveyed. we spent the next few hours walking around old town, eventually settling down on the stone wall and continuing our “get-to-know-you” conversations. i found myself talking to another member of our group and having conversation very similar to the one early. we spoke of books, movies, family, relationships, and virtually everything else under the sun. we traded our outrageous life stories and i would honestly say this too was a highlight to the week. these conversations have proven to be so insightful and getting to know people in a different context is an experience that i really cannot describe. i found myself going hours without looking at my phone, or even thinking of it, and becoming totally invested in the conversations happening.

that has actually been one of the things about this trip that has been truly unexpected. no lie, i use my phone a lot at home. this habit has changed since coming to europe for a couple of reasons. firstly, it’s difficult to use your phone considering data charges and the such. instagram is cool y’all, but not when it comes at such a price to idly browse  internationally. secondly, the interesting conversations are SO abundant here. so many times i have caught myself holding lengthy conversations with people that a month ago, i had no idea existed, and it is incredible. one night on the bus i sat next to another peer who looked at me and said “so tell me about your life”, and we spent the next two hours engrossed in deep and meaningful conversation. it is incredibly rare to see these raw sides of people, but i have experienced that more in the last few weeks than ever before. i’ve learned an incredible amount not only about myself through these conversations, but about the world through the eyes of others. the people i’ve interacted with on this trip range in origin from florida, to the dominican republic, to prague, and various other areas. yet these have been uniting factors in conversation.

of course i’ve included pictures from this beautiful place, although i don’t have many. this place was so incredible and the conversations were so engrossing that i honestly forgot to look at my phone for hours on hand.

the greatest thing about Montenegro that i can pinpoint is how much of a beautiful surprise it was. i’ve had a list of places that i wanted to visit forever, and it’s largely made up of the regulars (Paris, Venice, Spain, etc), but Montenegro was never on my list. Yet, it ended up being the most amazing place I have visited in my life thus far. It had the most unexpected, simple beauty and brought me some of the mot simple, raw conversations and friendships that I have ever had. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the 24 hours in Montenegro actually changed me in the most positive way.

the below pictures show the beautiful island town we got to see, as well as the area of Budva in the distance, where we spent our day in Montenegro. the other pictures show the amazing roommates i’ve gotten to spend this trip with, and another group picture! i really cannot stress enough how much the people have enhanced this experience for me. thankful doesn’t even cut it.

 

the balkans in 7 days: albania

as for the first week of my summer adventure, we embarked on a 7 day adventure around the balkans region! this trip consisted of MANY hours on a bus, which ended up not being too bad of a thing. these hours on the bus resulted in many long talks getting to know friends, JAM sessions, naps, and countless laughs.

our first day we packed up and out the door by 7 a.m. (after getting in as the last person at 10 pm the night before, talk about jetlag!).

before getting to our destination of kruje, albania, we made a stop at a rest stop with possible the best macchiato’s i have EVER had. we sat with our new friends, chatted, and spent some time enjoying the coffee and eachother. the thing that struck me right off the bat was the mountains. in kosovo you can obviously see the mountains, but out in the open terrain of albania, they seemed so much more prominent. i obviously had to have my new friend isabella take a picture for me in front of them. 🙂

albania 1

we next arrived in kruje, albania. WOW. everything about kruje was so aesthetically pleasing. not even the monuments we visited (though they were stunning as well and held a wealth of knowledge) but the landscape views were more than enough for me. the mix of mountains, kruje’s simply beautiful skyline, and the peep of the adriatic sea in the distance made for the most beautiful introduction to the region.

as well, i included some pictures with my fellow program members because they have really made this trip for me!

we made our way to shengjin to stay the night, and get some beach time! the beaches of this region are so incredibly beautiful and i spent time walking down the beach with my new friend jenna and getting to know eachother! thankfully, we’ve proven to be incredibly similar, which has made for an even better trip. who’d have thought you’d meet people you vibe with so well across the world! i’ve included a picture of us at the kruje castle in albania as well.

overall, albania was the perfect place to start off our trip. i was completely overwhelmed by the simple beauty of the region, as has been a theme with every place we visit.

next post coming soon: montenegro!

hh

europe.

wow.

that has been my internal monologue basically every day since i arrived in europe. everything about this place is incredible to say the least. everywhere that we have gone- from Albania, to Montenegro, to Serbia, etc. – has had the most incredible views i have ever seen. mountains are growing to be one of my most very favorite sights and the thought of leaving them in a month makes me sad already. 😦 we’ve seen everything from castles, to the ocean, to islands, and even more historically significant places.

oh, and also- the WATER. i have never in my life seen water so clear and beautiful until arriving in Montenegro and getting to swim in the Adriatic Sea. incredible. and again once we arrived in Croatia. the water was so incredibly blue and clear. looking out and not seeing land on the other side, but just an endless stretch of blue, is one of the most incredible feelings i have ever experienced. much like the feeling i experienced while on the plane; there is just something about these sights that has the ability to make you feel so small and irrelevant and at the same time so capable and purposeful. needless to say, i am less than ready to return to Iowa yet.

the best part of this trip so far though has easily been the people. i have met some of the very best people throughout just the last two weeks. the individuals i have spent the last two weeks are by far some of the very most intelligent and driven that i have ever encountered, and it’s honestly incredibly inspiring. interacting with such individuals sets off a fire in me to follow this lead. when it is said that “you become who you associate yourself with” do not take this phrase lightly. even in just two weeks of growing close with some of the intelligent and independent women on this trip, i can already feel a change within myself.

with talking about people, it seems appropriate to touch on the cultural phenomenons i’ve observed so far.

firstly, the people of this region are so interesting. the politeness was one of the very first things i noticed. wherever you go, the hosts pour your drinks for you, check back very frequently, and go the extra mile without even blinking an eye. this is a common phenomenon in any eatery, regardless of the ‘class level’. and not even this, but everyone seems so chill. so often in the states, especially working in a food service job, you really see the worst side of people. more than once have i served and/or been a part of parties where there was at least one dramatized moment (the check being wrong, the food being wrong, etc.) but not once while here have i observed a moment like this. not only do the food service workers take their job very seriously and with a sense of pride, but there is a different atmosphere among the customers as well. you see more people staying for hours in restaurants and just talking. the world seems like it is slowed down almost, compared to the atmosphere we are accustomed to in the states. it’s an incredible new way to observe life and remind myself to slow down.

conversations over coffee, on a crusty bus, sitting on a hotel patio, or even hotel stairs at 3 am, and genuinely getting to know another person have become frequent parts of every day life while in this area, and i cannot express how refreshing it is. even a 15 minute conversation with the host while waiting for our food this past week proved to be one of the most eye-opening and fulfilling conversations i can pinpoint from the last two weeks. i am amazed at the amount of genuine people ive been lucky to interact with over the past few weeks, and i find myself drawing inspiration from those i interact with a little more every day. ‘lucky’ isn’t a strong enough word to describe how i feel in regards to this experience.

there are so many more insights i intend to share about this beautiful place, but not enough time in the day. more updates will be to come later!

hh