10 reasons you need to visit Dubrovnik!

10 reasons you need to visit Dubrovnik!

As finals approach and projects are handed in, it is hard to believe that my time in Dubrovnik is almost over. When Kathryn, Michelle and I got our final’s schedule and realized that we were going to be done with finals on Monday the 13th, but our flights coming home aren’t until December 20th, we immediately jumped online into looking at one last destination we can visit while in Europe.

So, I have just three or four days left in Dubrovnik, because I will be spending next Tuesday- Friday in Barcelona, Spain! I am more than excited for this trip- it will be an amazing end to such a great time abroad.

But, before I leave Dubrovnik for good, I want to share with everyone 10 reasons why Dubrovnik needs to be added to your destination wish list!

I know what you’re thinking, Dubrovnik can’t possibly be the best place to visit in all of Europe, what about all the famous cities like Paris and London, Rome and Amsterdam? Well, I have visited all of those places in the past four months (plus a few more) and I can confidently say that I think Dubrovnik has the most value for tourists coming from anywhere. Now, maybe I am a bit biased because Dubrovnik has been my home base, but I think that my roommates would agree with me. So, without further adue- reasons why Dubrovnik is a must visit!

 

#1: The city is immaculately clean

I have honestly never seen a city as clean as Dubrovnik. There are city workers constantly sweeping up any cigarette butts, napkins, and any other debris that may have made its way into the streets somehow. They don’t only take care of the main touristic parts of the city- I have never seen any garbage where our apartment is, or in any of the areas we venture out to. One day we were sitting at a cafe, and someone had accidently dropped a small doughnut (almost like a munchkin) that he was eating onto the streets. It took all of seven minutes of the food lying in the street before a city worker came and swept it up. I kid you not. These men are constantly cleaning the streets at all times of the day. You couldn’t find misplaced garbage here if you wanted to.

IMG_6601
Stradun at night, during high tourist season

#2: The people are extremely hardworking

Please see my earlier post about this. But seriously, if you stay in Dubrovnik longer than three days and pay any sort of attention to local working people, you will notice that the same men who served you cocktails at 11pm are the ones giving you coffee the next morning at 10am in the same cafe. And it’s not just one cafe I have noticed this at. Day in and day out the same people are performing the same jobs with a smile on their face, just happy to be making a little bit of money. Their work ethic is incredible.

 

#3: The UNESCO sights and history.

If the Dubrovnik ancient city walls or Game of Thrones #KingsLanding aren’t enough to bring you in, then consider the rich history this area has to offer. Dubrovnik was the first republic in all of Europe, conquered by Napoleon’s army, the first nation to recognize the United States as a country, part of Ex-Yugoslavia, faced their own independence war just twenty years ago, and joined the EU in 2013. This area’s history is so rich it puts the rest of Europe almost to shame. The third oldest pharmacy in the world is still in working order in Dubrovnik, it has been opened at operating since 1317.

IMG_7533
The clock tower from the city walls

IMG_8850

#4: The food and wine

I have to admit I didn’t savor the food and wine here as many others did, mainly because I am not a huge seafood fan and not that into wine. But if you are, then Dubrovnik is the place for you! Their Dingač wine coming from the Pelješac region is world-renowned, the olive oil superb, and don’t get me started on the Ćevapi (a local meat, sort of like a skinless sausage) . It is a true Mediterranean diet. Their sweets include candied orange peels and almonds. One thing is for sure, you won’t go hungry in Dubrovnik.

IMG_7697

#5: The city is incredibly safe

The crime rate is virtually zero. I walk to class every day with my backpack on and my laptop computer and wallet inside without a single worry that it might not be there when I get to class. I couldn’t walk like this in Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, or London. I have never once felt the least bit uncomfortable in any area of the city. Night or day, it is completely safe to walk alone in any area. Local children as young as seven wander the streets every single day walking to and from school with no problems. I have walked home at 2AM alone (sorry Mom, lol) and never once was the even slightly sketched out. It seriously is so safe.

IMG_7104
City Walls

#6: It is relatively inexpensive

The Croatian Kuna is the currency in Dubrovnik. The dollar is strong against the Kuna, 1USD being equal to about 7 Kunas. Eating out at restaurants is about the same price as eating in the states, but buying groceries and alcohol, passes on city buses, and local souvenirs are on the cheaper end. It is not as cheap as things you would find in Mexico, but the hand made, quality pieces found in Dubrovnik are much cheaper than what you would expect.

 

#7: The sun, sand, and sea are at an arm’s length

Banje Beach was rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world. The turquoise water against the pebbled beaches and constant sun is a refresher for any visitor. Before coming to Dubrovnik I was warned of the rain storms and “Bora” that they experience- strong winds from the south. I am happy to say that since I arrived in late August, it has been sunny all but three days. The weather has been absolutely amazing here. It is December 10th and 62 degrees and sunny for the next two weeks! This makes year round tourism possible in Dubrovnik, although high season is still May-October, the city is taking great strides to encourage visitors to come throughout the winter months.

IMG_6579
Banje Beach 

#8: The city’s unique “homemade” charm

One thing that I love the most about Dubrovnik is the fact that there are no McDonald’s or Starbucks that have infiltrated the city. All restaurants and cafes are local, family owned and operated. Souvenirs are made by the local people who sell them at markets or on the side of the street. I have bought a few things from different women who are sewing table cloths or other decorative items on the side of the street more than once. The local charm and homemade uniqueness is something that you don’t find in many tourist destinations.

IMG_8836
Tradional Lindo Croatian Song and Dance

#9: To experience the notion of “Croatian Coffee”

When you go for coffee in Croatia, the first thing to know is that there is no such thing as “to-go” coffee, at least if you are having Croatian Coffee. When someone asks you to have a coffee with them, it is an invitation to socialize and get to know someone on a more personal level. Coffee easily lasts an hour, if not three or four. Cafes will not bring you a bill until you ask for it. Croatians truly value their coffee time. It is a time to gossip, divulge secrets, and talk to one another. Having the experience of going for coffee in Croatia is worth it in itself to visit Dubrovnik (or any other Croatian city).

 

#10: The excursions

There are countless options to get out of the city when you want to. Nearby islands (the favorite being Lokrum), hiking Mt. Srđ, and visiting vineyards up the coast are all within an hour or so trip. If you want to travel further, Mostar, Sarajevo, Split, Krka and other cities are close by. Although, I have been in Dubrovnik for four months and still haven’t gotten sick of the city! So many things are in close proximity to Dubrovnik.

IMG_8369

Well, there you have it. I hope that you have enjoyed my post. I will be traveling to Barcelona, Spain and home within the next week, so I will not be posting for a few weeks!

As always, thank you for taking this journey with me. And once again, thank you to Constellation Brands, The Statler Foundation, the RIT Hospitality Department, and the Gilman Foundation for making this experience financially feasible for me.  Ciao!

XOXO Sarah

A Croatian Thanksgiving

A Croatian Thanksgiving

I know that I haven’t posted in a while. The truth is, I just got so busy with school work and assignments and getting in some “must-dos” before my time in Dubrovnik comes to an end.

Since my last post, I have hiked Mt. Srd (pronounced Surg). The views down onto Dubrovnik were incredible. On the day we went, it was a bit foggy, so I am hoping to make the hike once more before we leave. I also went to Rome, Italy for four days. Seeing the historic landmarks that I have learned about since grade school was amazing.

Thanksgiving just passed, and it was the weirdest experience for me. We had class on Thanksgiving. So, for the first time in my 16 years in school, I had to attend on Thanksgiving Day. It didn’t feel like Thanksgiving, but everyone’s social media posts from home made it a little bit more real. I was able to Facetime with my family back home, which I am grateful for. I am so used to the weather being so much cooler back home during late November, so to me, it still feels like early October because it is still so beautiful in Dubrovnik.

Me and my roommates hosted an “American Thanksgiving” on Saturday, when we didn’t have class. Two other American students studying in Dubrovnik came to the dinner. We had a lot of fun preparing the food and appetizers, finding substitutes for the ingredients we would normally use at home.

We had a bunch of appetizers, and as we were halfway through cooking the dinner, we lost power to the stove and all the lights in the apartment. It was already dark outside. We lost the corn and gravy, but still had turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and we sat and ate in the dark. That will definitely be a memory I will have with me forever. We all made the best of the situation, especially “head chef” Michelle. This years Croatian Thanksgiving was certainly one for the books.

After dinner, we were all in the typical food coma, but we played some cards and games and all laughed and had a great time.

I will end with what I am thankful for; it seems fitting…

I am thankful for this wonderful opportunity to travel the world and immerse myself in another culture. I am thankful for the great friends I came to Dubrovnik with, and the ones that I have made along the way. I am thankful for my family back home who supports me in everything I do. I am thankful for a life-changing year.

I come home in three weeks from today. My time in Dubrovnik has certainly flew by. I look forward to making the most of the next 21 days here. The Christmas Festival in Dubrovnik has officially started, so I  am excited to experience the holiday season here. And, I look forward to seeing all my family and loved ones back home soon.

I will post 2-3 times more in Dubrovnik, but my posts will continue (although, less frequently) after I return home. As always, thank you for reading and taking this journey with me!

XOXO Sarah

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Why don’t U.S. students Study Abroad??

Why don’t U.S. students Study Abroad??

I read a pretty shocking statistic last week. Only 1 % of all US students participate in a study abroad program. This really was surprising to me. I thought it was more of a natural thing to do while in school. It seems like everyone talks about studying abroad, so how do only 1% of students actually participate in an abroad experience?

Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are making significant efforts to get their students to colleges that are abroad, such as American colleges. The funding that is provided to the students coming to America is incredible. This is a good thing for the American students, because if they are not getting exposure to other cultures through a study abroad, they are at least having an increased diversity in their home schools while on campus.

The U.S. doesn’t push for us to leave like these other countries do. There is very little funding dedicated solely to students studying abroad, but one program, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship through the Institute for International Education , has helped many students go abroad, including me! There are other foundations helping students go abroad, too. But these scholarships don’t come close to the efforts put in by other countries.

The good news is that while there are not many scholarships directed towards study abroad, there are countless scholarships for you to put towards your tuition, so you can save your personal funds to study abroad with. Simply doing a Google search with your interests or major could help you find these types of scholarships. I have received countless scholarships through private organizations

So the question is, why are US students not studying abroad? Is it because of costs? Do they think they can’t get credit? Or won’t graduate on time? Or is there simply not a desire to go? I think that there needs to be a bigger push to send American students abroad. The things that I have learned about myself, other cultures, and perceptions in the three months that I have been gone are immeasurable.

If you want to read more about study abroad statistics, check out http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/11/17/how-studying-abroad-has-changed-in-the-last-decade

In other news, we had the most gorgeous sunset in Dubrovnik this week. Just thought I would share it with you all 🙂
IMG_8307

Thanks!

XOXO Sarah

When tourism is bad…

When tourism is bad…

I would have never thought that tourism could ever possibly be a bad thing. Last spring semester I took a course that analyzed the dynamics of tourism from an objective view (any other tourism class I had taken was taught by the Hospitality Department) but this course was taught by a professor in the Anthropology department. She tried to convince us (mostly all hospitality students) that tourism is exploitative, bad, and could bring harm to entire areas. I did not really think this was at all possible. But now, I am beginning to think my mindset is shifting (slightly).

While I don’t ever want tourism to be a bad thing (for the sake of my job outlook!) it has become apparent that Dubrovnik is simply exhausted from the tourists. Before I came over, everyone talked about the “high-season” in Dubrovnik, the time when most of the tourists come and flock the main street of Stradun, and when the locals stay in their homes. This season used to only be from May-September (at the very latest). I came to Dubrovnik with this understanding; that most restaurants and tourists shops would either close or have limited hours come late September. I had even heard it from the locals.

But then the end of September came and went, and nothing changed. The city was as busy as ever. I thought maybe the tourists would stop coming in October. But here it is, November 4th, and there are still massive cruise ships in port and tour buses visiting the city. The city is definitely less busy than before, but there are still tourists everywhere.  On November 1st some restaurants and shops just closed their doors, but very few. 90% of the shops are still open, so I started asking shop owners and workers when they will be closing for the season, and most are staying open through mid-December.

The local people used to work so hard from May through September and make enough money to live off of the rest of the months without working, or doing minimal work. Now, these people are forced to work much longer, with virtually no break at all. This is why I think tourism has had a negative impact on the locals of Dubrovnik.

The mass tourism that Dubrovnik has seen in recent years have consistently broken records each year in a row. This year, they had a record breaking number of visitors climb the UNESCO protected walls of Dubrovnik. This means that these walls that are centuries old are being eroded at a much higher rate year after year, and more repairs and maintenance is needed in order to preserve them.

Most of the visitors in Dubrovnik are from cruise ships, and only have hours in the city. They are not contributing much to the local economy. Other visitors are only staying on average 2 and a half days, not contributing significantly to the local economy either.

While the tourists create garbage, human waste, erode the historic city faster, and exhaust the employees, they are creating a bad rep for tourism. This is why tourism can be bad. BUT, that doesn’t mean that Dubrovnik is not a beautiful and amazing place to visit. By becoming a smarter tourist, we can create ways to educate tourists and invent new sustainable tourism activities.

As always, thanks for reading!

XOXO Sarah

IMG_7704 IMG_7735 IMG_7926 IMG_8053

Two months down… Two months to go!

Two months down… Two months to go!

Wow! I cannot believe two weeks have gone by, yet again! Schoolwork is getting a bit more intense as we get into the middle of the semester. I went to Amsterdam last week, and my sister met us in Amsterdam and then she came to Dubrovnik for a week. I was her personal tour guide while she was here!

After 7 weeks of living in Dubrovnik, we finally were able to climb the city walls. I am told that some locals who have lived here their entire life have never climbed the walls, so I don’t feel as guilty that it took us so long to do it :). The view from the walls was completely different than what I was expecting. Since our balcony has such an amazing view of the city, I didn’t think it could be beat. But when you are on top of the walls, the view looking out onto the streets and the terracotta rooftops is incredible.

While my sister, Jessica, was here, I finally did some souvenir shopping and felt like a tourist in Dubrovnik. I met so many great locals working in the shops while I was wandering with Jessica. From the kind man in the T-shirt shop who is specially printing us our own t-shirt styles, to the father of a classmate working at the bus station, I engaged more with locals working in the hospitality industry than before. I also was able to walk through the small outdoor market where locals sell their homemade goods; lavender, oils, cooking utensils, sweets, and fresh fruits and veggies are just a few of the charming things they sold. I discovered new areas of Dubrovnik while my sister was here, and for that I am grateful.

I am becoming a little nervous, because we only have two months left in this city! I cannot believe how fast this experience is flying by. I still have so much to look forward to, like a class field trip tomorrow to Peljisac, a trip to Montenegro next weekend, and a getaway to Rome, Italy in a few weeks!

I have been gone for eight weeks now, and in that small amount of time I have learned more about myself than I would have ever imagined. Some things I learned:

Almost everyone speaks English, which means that are speaking at least two languages, which also means that I am spoiled for never learning another language.

The people who don’t speak English can still communicate with what little English they know, and that is almost always the funnest part about traveling places.

I am more independent than I ever thought possible.

Americans are loved and hated almost everywhere. I feel so lucky to be an American. After meeting a woman traveling alone who was born in the Phillipines but has lived in Tokyo for years, I realized how lucky we are. She has to obtain a visa for every country she visits before she even begins planning her trip, and she has to apply and pay (sometimes several hundred dollars) for each one. Americans can simply buy a plane ticket and hop around several countries without ever having to apply for a visa (which is what I have done for Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro). I never once even looked up if I needed a visa. But on the other end, some people resent us for that. We are ignorant, and many people want to blame the world’s problems on us. It is very interesting going to class with other nationalities and discussing politics and the refugee crisis. So that brings me to my next point…

Other nationalities pay attention to American politics more than I do. I feel so embarrassed to even admit that. I have not paid attention to the upcoming presidential election much at all, but the woman I met wanted to know my opinions on the upcoming election… and I couldn’t give one! She had watched all the debates and followed the campaigns pretty closely so far, and I don’t think that I have done anything other than see things on social media about it. It is terrible, and I have decided that I need to become more politically involved.

My perception of New York has changed so much. Of course, whenever I tell people I am from New York, they think I mean Manhattan. I tell them no, I come from farm country :). I think the thing I miss most is fall; the foliage, the smells and scents, and the atmosphere. I tried bringing a little bit of NY fall to Dubrovnik by making my sister bring me some ingredients to make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, ha! They don’t sell any pumpkin in Dubrovnik, and it is my ultimate favorite fall food, so since she was coming anyway, I told her to throw it in her suitcase. I think that I have grown an appreciation for New York that I never had before, but maybe I won’t be saying that when I arrive at the end of December in the freezing cold :).

Thank you for following me for the past two months; we have two months left and I am so excited to share the rest of my time here with you!

XOXO Sarah

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Adjusting…

Adjusting…

Now that we have been in Dubrovnik for two weeks, I am beginning to feel more like a “local” and less like a tourist. I can more easily navigate the city, have found the best route to and from campus, and can even help out lost tourists with directions!

Here are some things I have learned so far:

  • Toilets are so weird here. They are oddly shaped and the flush button is weird too! They are much smaller than the US, and the flusher is the entire top of the toilet and you push it into the toilet to flush. Some toilets have two large buttons, one wider than the other for… heavier flushes. When our washer drains, it does so in the toilet… so we get to see all the nasty water come out of our now clean clothes.
  • There are no clothes driers. I knew this before I left the states, so this is not as shocking to me. It’s actually kind of pretty to see laundry hanging out to dry. Our balcony came equipped with four lines for drying clothes, and our landlord left us a bunch of clothespins.
  • There is no Netflix! We learned this one the hard way… but Netflix “hasn’t come to this country yet”. That is literally what the website says when you type it in.
  • Walking and/or using public transportation is actually much more enjoyable than I thought it would be. I have had my own car since I turned 16, and before that my mom or sister would drive me around, so needless to say I have been very spoiled. Before coming I thought I would be most “culture shocked” by not having the convenience of my car, but I have found a lot of peace in walking the city. It is very relaxing to just stroll home. Besides, driving here is insanely scary. So that brings me to the next point…
  • The roads here are tiny. I mean tiny. You start walking down a road, and think it is just a walking path. Then a car comes through, and you think it is a one way. But then a car comes from the opposite direction, and you are terrified for your life and both drivers. I haven’t seen any accidents yet, so I guess its normal for them.
  • Stairs are everywhere, and I mean everywhere. We walk up hundreds of stairs to get back to the apartment. Like over 500. This is not a place that can accommodate handicapped people at all.

While I have found these things to be the most alarming, I have not really felt homesick or culture shock yet. I do not know if I will experience either, but as of right now, I can say that I am fully immersing myself into the Croatian culture as much as I possibly can!

Until next time, Cheers!

A perfect view
                                                

Living in Paradise…

We had arrived late Saturday night, and once we got to the apartment our landlord and study abroad faculty mentor wanted to make sure we were all set and ready to make ourselves at home. They talked to us a lot; telling us directions, how to use appliances, where things were located in the apartment and around the city, and a ton of other really important information as soon as we arrived in Dubrovnik. The truth is, I tried listening as best I could, but I just could not pay attention to the things they were saying. I don’t know if I experienced a little bit of culture shock or what, but my senses were put into overdrive. All I could do was look, I couldn’t hear them say anything.

My first impressions:

The refrigerator and freezer combo is as tall as my shoulders…. weird. The oven and stove are in different parts of the kitchen. The TV looks like it came from the 80’s. Some furniture was modern, while other pieces looked like they had been picked up at a garage sale. It was all very overwhelming. I didn’t even know where to set my bags down, because we hadn’t even picked our rooms yet! I was exhausted, yet had this adrenaline rush at the same time. It was a very strange sensation running through my body.

We had a few balconies off our apartment- one off the living room, one off a bedroom, and another facing the opposite direction. When we opened the balcony door, the heat hit us. It was after 11pm and it was still so hot outside. I checked the weather and it was still in the mid 80s. From the balcony, we could see that we were overlooking the major part of the city, we just couldn’t see much other than some supermarket signs lit up and a few ships out in the sea with some lights on.

We needed to head out to get something to eat, so we asked our landlord the simplest way to get out and back without a chance of us getting lost. She told us to go down a few flights of stairs and we would see a cafe that was open late.

A few?! In total, it was 251 steps from our front door to the closest cafe. People had warned me about the steps in Dubrovnik, but I don’t think I was anything close to prepared for this many stairs. And the killer part is, we weren’t even halfway to the main part of the city or to campus from that point. We had dinner and used the cafes free wifi to sit there for a while and catch up with the world. Then we headed back up the 251 stairs for bed.

I couldn’t sleep, I was just too anxious and felt not at home yet. I woke up at about 6:30AM and went right for the balcony. The view was incredible. It was breathtaking. I sat there for an hour or so just taking it in. I knew at that point I had made the right decision to leave my home life behind and come to this amazing place.

The view from our balcony...
The view from our balcony…

On Sunday we went to the #1 beach in Dubrovnik, Banje Beach. It was filled with tourists- Dubrovnik had over 7 ships at port that day and had an influx of almost 20,000 people from cruises that weekend. We had a hard time finding a spot to lay our blanket down. We didn’t mind it though, we felt like we were on vacation too!

The beach was incredible. It is all pebbles, filled with mostly small rocks. The water is the most amazing shade of teal and was so refreshing. We laid on the beach for most of the day, just soaking in the sun, and I could not help but think how amazing my life is. I am living in a paradise where people come to vacation! This is just a little different than my home in Upstate NY.

Now that I have gone through my first week of classes in Dubrovnik, I still feel incredibly lucky to be living in this amazing place. I got to learn some of the history of Dubrovnik and the recent wars, how tourism impacts Dubrovnik and Croatia, as well as meet new people and experience new things. 3 out of 5 days this week we have gone to the beach either before or after class! I am incredibly thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to explore what it is like to live in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Stay tuned for further impressions on life in Dubrovnik…

Ready for class!
            Ready for class!