This past week has been incredible, going to places I never imagined I would ever go. We left Bosnia on Saturday and arrived in Dubrovnik, Croatia that night. I had heard about the incredible beaches and sunny weather, but I didn’t know anything about the city. The part where we stayed was a fairly typical urban, touristy beach area, but the old town is a whole different story. When I first saw it, I was convinced I was walking into a castle. The entire town is a magnificent white fortress surrounded completely by a solid wall. There are even drawbridges at the entryways! I was fascinated by this whole construction as we explored on Saturday night. One negative aspect of Croatia is that they have done better economically than their neighbors due to tourism, so they are able to raise all of their prices (still not as expensive as Germany though!) Also, their currency has one-seventh the value of the euro, which makes converting a little more confusing.
We had a city walk on Sunday morning, and then the rest of the day free. Seeing the old town in broad daylight was completely different from the night before, but just as fascinating. We learned all about the war in the 90s when they gained independence from Yugoslavia. After the walk, all of us decided to order a private boat to cruise us around the Adriatic and the nearby islands. This was absolutely incredible, probably the best experience I’ve had so far abroad. The guides took us on about a two-hour ride, all around the city. We stopped at a small hole in a nearby cliff, and were told to jump off and swim inside. It turns out there was an awesome cave hidden inside, and we all played around there for a while. The boat eventually dropped us off at an island, and we spent the rest of the day there. This island actually had the only sand beach in this part of Croatia, which really surprised me. I’m glad they took us there, because the other beaches we had been too were pretty rocky and painful on our feet. We hung out there for at least five hours, and then were picked up by the boat and cruise home again. We were exhausted by the time we got back, and all crashed fairly early. In the morning, we met with the former mayor of Dubrovnik and he explained to us his experiences with the country, and the expected effects of their new accession to the EU. It was a very timely visit for us, as Croatia just gained EU membership on July 1st!
On Monday, we made our way from Croatia to Tirana, Albania- at least an eight hour bus ride. None of us were very pleased to leave the beach paradise and sit on the bus all day. Albania was a completely different experience- it is a very poor, underdeveloped country. They seem to have very few rules, or at least don’t enforce them very well. We found ourselves forced to walk through construction projects to get where we needed to go, and to cross the street we just had to step into the traffic and hope they would stop. Their currency is 1/100th of a euro- it was very off-putting to spend thousands on one dinner until you remembered it was in leks. Talking to officials in Albania was pretty depressing also. We spoke to an advisor to Albania’s accession progress into the EU, and even he didn’t seem to have much hope for his own nation. He discussed how far they were from ever gaining membership, and when asked what Albania might be able to offer to the EU, he could barely make up anything even reasonably positive. One exciting part of the visit was that they had an election while we were there, so we got to see all of the winner’s supporters celebrating all night! We went to dinner at one of the fanciest restaurants in the city (to take advantage of the outrageous exchange rate), on the roof of the tallest skyscraper. Looking out over the railing while eating we were able to clearly see all of the festivities going on all around us. The excitement was dampened slightly by knowing how corrupt their election process is, but we tried not to think about that…
By the time we left on Wednesday for Pristina, Kosovo, we were all exhausted and pretty much ready to get back to Freiburg. We were all re-energized, however, when we saw our hotel. It was by far the fanciest hotel we had stayed at yet, with jacuzzis, big-screen tvs, massage chairs, king-size beds, an extensive fitness center, and really anything else we could have wanted. When we came down to the lobby, we saw a letter from the US Vice President thanking them for letting him stay at this hotel when he visited! With this new-found energy, we were much more motivated for the activities for the next few days. We visited EULEX, or the European Union Rule of Law, and they explained to us how they try to fight corruption in the politicians. This part got a little depressing again, as they explained just how hard it is to actually convict a corrupt politician when they threaten the lives of the families of prosecutors. We also visited KFOR, an army base made up of soldiers from all NATO member states, working to maintain peace and stability in the area. This was pretty exciting, as we got picked up by soldiers directly from our hotel and were specially escorted into the base. I had never been to an army base before, and didn’t really know what to expect. We talked to an American soldier from Alabama, who told us all about their work. He was really funny and informative, and had some great quotes. One of my favorites was when he discussed how they had to always be impartial “If both sides aren’t mad at us, we aren’t doing our job!”
We spent most of one day in the nearby city of Prizren, which was a little less urban than Pristina but much more beautiful. We got a city tour there, which ended at the top of a giant hill where we could look out for miles over the town. One of the teachers who came with us on the second half of the trip is from Kosovo, so she was extremely helpful in both Pristina and Prizren as we tried to communicate and get around. She led us all to an amazing restaurant for our farewell dinner on the last night. In all of these Balkan countries, when we go to nicer, local restaurants I’ve had to get used to not receiving a menu and just accepting the food that they bring. I think it actually works out better that way, as the food is always incredible and we end up with more than we could ever possibly finish (at least five courses usually!)
The trip was fascinating and unlike anything I ever would have imagined myself doing, but I was absolutely exhausted by the end and ready to get back to my own bed. I found myself thinking of Freiburg as home, which was oddly strange and comforting at the same time.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Susanna Bowers grew up in Seattle, Washington before moving to the small town of Walla Walla to attend Whitman College. She is studying economics, and is very excited to get a more global perspective through the European Union coursework and field trips. At school, she is an intern at the career center and an active member of Kappa Kappa Gamma. In her free time, you will likely find her eating thai food, listening to country music, or hanging out with friends. She has been to Europe before, but only for short stays and never to Germany. She can't wait to be able to explore new places and meet all sorts of interesting people this summer!</span></p>