Home Sweet HomeOct. 27, 20003 p.m.
I cannot figure it out. One mention of Croatia or any other former Yugoslavian republic and most people wince. Although I am no scholar on the affairs of central Europe, I can lend a traveler’s perspective. To the outside observer, Croatia may seem like a war-torn country, lacking character, style and European charm, but the picture inside the country is far different.
In early October I enjoyed a relaxing four days on the sun-drenched Mediterranean Island of Hvar for a Student Voice journalism conference. Hvar, a jewel in the Adriatic Sea, is perhaps central Europe’s best-kept secret, billing itself as Croatia’s sunniest spot with 2,724 hours of sun each year. And the 11,000 residents of this slice of heaven intend to keep it picturesque and quiet.
After a day of flying, first from D.C. to Frankfurt, then to Zagreb (Croatia’s capital) and to the Croatian port city of Split – where I boarded a ferry boat for the last leg of the journey – the sight of the quaint town’s small cottages and street lights glistening off the harbor was a welcome first glimpse.
Hvar is perhaps the epitome of peacefulness. Shops and businesses close in the afternoon and entire families gather in homes and restaurants to share a meal and catch up with one another. The results of this un-American approach to life are evident. Hvar’s people are beautiful, relaxed and take great pride in enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
Situated in Central Dalmatia, just off Croatia’s southern coast, Hvar has long been a tourist destination for Europeans. Italy is just a day’s boat ride away, possibly explaining this country’s heavy Italian influence. The language and everything from fashion to cuisine draw inference from Italy.
Remains of ancient ruins, including the Fortress Spanjol citadel, built on the site of a medieval castle to defend the town from the Turks, are common around town. The fortress stands guard at the top of a hill overlooking the harbor and is transformed into an enormous discotheque for residents and tourists during the summer.
At the conference I had lively discussions with fellow conference participants. We explored issues of from freedom of the press in Europe to the importance of tabloid journalism in British life.
Throughout the week and between conference sessions, I explored the back alleyways and medieval palaces hidden behind the town’s 13th century walls. At nearly every turn, I encountered beautiful vistas, often looking out over the crystal-clear harbor waters or the hillside fields of lavender and rosemary.
The town streets radiated with the sweet perfume of lavender, sold by vendors in small sachets or in liquid form. And beyond the beautiful natural scents came the wonderful aromas of restaurants’ freshly cooked fish and other island specialties.
A highlight of the week was an evening reception in the 16th century Loggia in the town center where governmental decisions used to be announced. The mayor hosted a grand welcome party in the stately city hall where we enjoyed fine food, drink and good company. As we did every night, the entire group – students, professors and conference organizers – ended up at the same small bar on a hidden side street. We continued our discussions from earlier in the day and got to know each other on a more personal level. The partying went on until the early hours of the morning, often until the police came and told us we had to leave.
Upon leaving the island Oct. 7, I was privileged to spend the night at the home of one of the conference organizers. The father of the student organizer is a researcher at a neighboring marine institute and I, along with several other students, spent our last night on a ship the institute uses for marine expeditions.
All of these adventures – from meeting intriguing students from across Europe to learning about journalism in an international context and experiencing the best Croatia has to offer – proved to be an amazing experience.
A month ago, I was relaxing on an island and enjoying nature’s beauty. I knew I would eventually have to return to reality. But even now, as I battle midterms and the daily stresses of a hectic schedule, I remember that sense of peace and relaxation I experienced in Hvar, enough to wash my cares away.