Archive | September, 2010

From Bombing to Stunning: Lessons from a war-torn Paradise

8 Sep

The French toast sizzles and crackles in the pan, browning to perfection.  Milka stands over it, waiting to flip each slice, all the while engaging in happy conversation with the young travelers sitting around the breakfast table enjoying the fruits of her labor.  When she’s not tending to the stove, she’s patting this person’s back or asking how that person slept, genuinely interested in what everyone has to stay.  Unlike so many others like her around the world, she doesn’t just run a hostel, she creates a family.

For anyone who’s ever traveled through a hostel or two, this fact alone is extremely out of the ordinary.  But what makes it even more extraordinary is that Milka and her family, the people responsible for making Dubrovnik Backpackers Club the #1 voted hostel in all of Croatia, were once refugees, waiting patiently for peace as bombs fell outside their windows, living in constant fear of no tomorrow for their family and their beloved homeland.

View of Debrovnik and the port from within the medieval walls

It’s easy to forget a war that happened less than 20 years ago, especially when you walk through the impeccably restored alleyways of the Old Town.  How could something this beautiful ever have gone through something so treacherous, and how on Earth could anybody want to destroy such a gorgeous place?  But once you begin to talk to a local, it’s easy to remember just how real, how brutal, and how close this war really was.  Milka and her family, especially her son Ive, who began high school on the

very day that the bombing began (as if starting high school isn’t traumatizing enough), were more than willing to share their stories about the war, and even more willing to laugh with you five minutes later.  It’s a true testament to these people, their spirits, how friendly, accepting, and open they are, considering how much they have been through.  It would have been easy for them to have hardened, closed-up, taken on a jaded view of the world.  But that’s not Croatian.  They are a proud people, a happy people, and a people not content with dwelling in the past, but rather determined to move Croatia forward and restore it to all its glory.

Of course Croatia is beautiful, packed with great nightlife, easy-going travelers, and outstanding sun and sea.  Laying on a rock jutting out to sea with a peacock wandering alongside you, jumping off said rock into the perfectly cool salty water, and floating on your back, looking up at the sky and the stunning red roofs clustered together to create the ultimate coastline, is not

something to be underestimated.  Making new friends at the bar, hanging out with Australians, Kiwis, Brits, Croatians, and everything in between, and drinking beer under the starry sky amid the beachy air is what makes traveling so great, so enjoyable.  But the reason I loved Croatia so much, enough to list it as one of my favorite places I have ever traveled to, is the people and their stories.  The history is so rich and so palpable, and the people are so welcoming.  I could have spent all day without leaving the hostel and been perfectly fine.  More than fine.  Just talking to Milka, learning about Ive’s experiences and memories, and understanding why this little city is so remarkable makes traveling what it is, and is the true reason why I love it so much.

Peacock wandering freely along the rocky shoreline of Lokrum, one of Croatia's many islands

Everyone should go to Dubrovnik, that little city by the sea.  It’s the most beautiful place with the most interesting history and the most resilient of all people.  Talk to the locals, soak up the sun, stroll through the old city walls.  And stop by Dubrovnik Backpackers Club for some French toast and conversation.  Your outlook on life will be changed before that first slice of fluffy bread has been digested.

For more info on Dubrovnik Backpackers Club, please visit http://www.dubackpackers.com/

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