I try each day to find beauty, to learn something new, or discover new ways to keep going, to keep being inspired. In doing this, I’ve realized that sharing my inspiration is just as important as going out to seek it.
So whether anyone is actually paying attention or not, I’m going to start sharing my findings with you. My goal, my hope, is to share a little daily inspiration – I hope to both inspire and be inspired, as I mention in my brief bio on the About page.
So here we go. Day 1.
It’s something I won’t ever be able to forget. The moment I was changed permanently, the moment my view of the world and the people in it shifted. Everything was the same, but somehow different. I realized that everyone and everything around me was worth seeing, worth documenting. Traveling literally takes you to another place, but what people don’t talk about is how it takes you to new places figuratively, too.
Seeing a new style of architecture, experiencing a foreign culture, communicating with people who don’t speak the same language – it’s all doing more to you than just giving you more stories to tell and beautiful photos to share. It’s connecting you to new ways of thought and living, providing you with a new perspective on life or love or even something as simple as what good coffee is to you. It allows everyone the opportunity to peer out to the world with fresh eyes, taking in more than just what you literally see in front of you.
It will change you. It will grow you. It will force you to look at yourself and the world and come to terms with what you think about both. And you will be better for it.
It’s the tagline for this blog and quickly becoming the tagline for my life: Getting lost is not a waste of time.
It’s a simple thought, really. But it goes against what most people operate by. A lot of us are in a hurry. Or even if we’re not in a hurry per se, we’re on a set timeline. We have a list of things we need to see or do and an idea of when they need to be done by.
We do this without really thinking about it. Maybe we’re concerned about making a deadline or not missing the train and subconsciously checking everything off our list. And this isn’t always a bad thing — this can promote productivity, keep us focused on a goal, or help us find order in all the chaos of a busy schedule.
But sometimes we’re trying so hard to get everything finished that we forget to pay attention to what we’re actually doing.
Case in point: in the summer of 2013, I was backpacking through Europe with two relatively new friends. Prior to the trip, I wasn’t really sure how it was all going to work out.
Would we compliment each other in our habits and desires on what to do? Or would we all have different preferences of an ideal trip and bicker most of the time?
Luckily, our instincts seemed to be right about each other and we all got along just fine the majority of the time. We wanted to see the major sights but at the same time wanted an authentic, off-the-beaten-path type of experience in each city if we could manage it. But there was one day of our travels in particular which didn’t run so smoothly.
We were in Rome at the time and were set to leave the next morning for Florence. We had been there for a day and a half already but, let’s be honest, it’s actually really difficult to see all the things there are to see in Rome in two and half days. We had seen the big attractions — the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Capitoline Hill, the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums — along with other, less-common spots thanks to research and the experience Drew (one of our party) had from living abroad there in college.
But the only thing on my list, perhaps cheesy and a little predictable I know, was the Trevi Fountain. I fault Hilary Duff in the Lizzie McGuire Movie for an unrealistic expectation of what would happen after I cast my wish (Just kidding, but there is probably some truth there. I blame my ingrained ’90s kid’ tendencies).
But regardless of my reasons, that’s all I wanted to see. As long as that was checked off, everything else would be icing on the cake.
Unfortunately, it felt like fate just did not want me to go there. We had planned on going there the first day, but because of our tour time of the Sistine Chapel, we didn’t have time to stop there. Then, for one reason or another, it kept getting bumped by something else on our list. It was too far of a walk, or we needed to eat first, or this, or that.
But finally, finally, it was the nearing the end of our full second day there and it was finally decided that that’s where we were headed. It was going to be easy, too — we had been walking almost everywhere, but due to the time and being 5mi away, we were going to take a bus.
So we waited. And waited… and waited. Four buses came and went, but not ours. We waited until it had been half an hour before deciding something wasn’t right. Eventually, from talking broken Italian to a woman at the stop, we deduced that a few of the buses, including ours, weren’t running due to engine problems. She wasn’t surprised; apparently it happens a lot.
But I was determined. I resolved to walk. I didn’t care how far we had already walked that day or how hungry I already was. I was going to make it there, plain and simple.
Drew didn’t feel so inclined, so it was just Jessica and I. Our hostel was close, so he was going to go clean up and take a nap before dinner. We were going to walk there, have our moment, and try to catch a different bus back to the hostel.
But once again, fate intervened. There was a marathon or parade or something big happening on one of the major roads we had to cross in order to get there (I didn’t pay attention to what it was in my utter frustration). This added an extra mile to go around to where the Polizia said we could cross.
We walked faster — and keep in mind we were close-to-broke college students, so spending money on a cab was avoided at all costs except emergencies — until we were almost there. We had made decent time despite the setback and had just under a mile to go.
Jessica, however, needed to sit. This was the absolute last thing I was inclined to do, but I was grateful she hadn’t left me to my lonesome and tagged along, so I begrudgingly agreed. We needed to find a spot though, because we didn’t want to pay to sit at a café. On a whim, we veered off course and onto a smaller side street in the hopes there’d be some sort of wall we could hop up and rest on.
And then I saw it. A rather small and somewhat dingy sign bearing the name of a saint in front of large but modest double doors. I glanced overhead to check for a steeple (and that’s when I learned that looking up is just as important as looking around). And that told me all I needed to know. It was a church.
Jessica didn’t hesitate, scrambling in to her sanctuary to rest her aching feet. I followed more slowly behind, having just noticed something for the first time. We were completely alone.
Which, if you’ve been there, you know doesn’t happen. Especially in the middle of the summer in primetime tourist season. But yet here we were, on a little side street about to walk into what looked like a forgotten church with no one else in sight. It hit me so forcefully that I felt nervous for a moment. Were we supposed to be here? Was this allowed?
I decided to walk in.
It wasn’t the most beautiful church I had seen in Europe, or even in Rome, but it had a modest beauty that I hadn’t seen in any church in my lifetime, and haven’t encountered since.
The ceiling was covered in slightly chipped murals, there were three columns lining the far sides of the pews, the altar and tabernacle in front were unassuming but well-kept and recently polished. It was relatively small for a catholic church, about the square footage of a three bedroom apartment in total, and we were the only two people in there that I could see, apart from one elderly Italian woman sitting in one of the pews.
I took a breath. I had been so preoccupied over the last hour about getting to the Trevi Fountain that the entire time we had been walking I hadn’t been appreciating the beauty of the ancient city. And here I was, not exactly lost but not precisely sure where I was either, standing in the middle of what felt like an existential scene crossed between Roman Holiday and The Bicycle Thieves.
I sat down and for as long as I needed to collect my thoughts, we sat there. It didn’t matter so much anymore whether I saw the Trevi Fountain or not, because what was the point if I was just going to be miserable or in a hurry the entire time anyway?
It’s a lesson that still resonates with me today. Getting lost is not a waste of time when you take a step back and get some perspective. You might not see everything you intended to see, but some of the best experiences in life are the ones we don’t expect.
Like that little church, forever stuck in that moment. Its name and location shall remain anonymous — for one, this way it still feels precious and all mine in some capacity — but mostly because two, it leaves the mystery open for you and others out there. I wish for you to stumble into your own little sanctuary and have an unexpectedly profound experience.
And for what it’s worth, Jessica and I did make it to the Trevi Fountain afterwards. Although it was by accident, after taking a narrow alley shortcut that wasn’t marked on our map.
It’s funny how you find things when you stop looking for them.
Opatija is a Croatian coastal town resting on the northeastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, and as pointed out in my last post, most people traveling to Croatia have never heard of it. They’ve heard of Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik… but usually not Opatija.
However, this wasn’t always the case. The story behind Opatija is a checkered one, dating all the way back to pre-Roman times. But to avoid turning this post into a full-on history lesson, I’ll try to briefly cover the highlights of the town’s modern history, beginning in 1844.
At this time, Iginio Scarpa, a rich merchant from Rijeka (another town in Croatia not far east of Opatija), founded Villa Angiolina. Villa Angiolina is the building that really marked the beginning of tourism in Opatija. This building still stands in Opatija today, converted into a museum devoted to telling you the story I’m telling you now.
Over time, the town became a fashionable spot for the Austrian imperial family and Austrian nobility. The first luxury hotel was built in 1884 and named Hotel Quarnero, but today stands as Grand Hotel Kvarner. Many more hotels and villas were soon built, and Opatija hit the height of tourism in 1889 when the Austrian government declared “Abbazia” (Opatija) the first climatic seaside resort on the Adriatic.
However, Opatija would change hands many times over the next century. It was assigned to Italy in 1920 with the advent of fascism, given over to Yugoslavia in 1947, and finally would fall into Croatia’s hands in 1991 with the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Since then, Opatija has been fairly quiet, operating to provide a peaceful getaway to tourists and Croatians on holiday alike.
So then what makes Opatija special?
I traveled to a multiple towns and cities throughout Croatia during my stay there, and while each was unique and beautiful in its own right – and I’ll go into each of those in later posts – there was a certain air in Opatija that didn’t seem to be anywhere else. It was that certain air, a feeling, essentially, that made you feel like nothing bad could ever happen there.
It’s not an imitation of anything – like a Disney resort trying to lure you into feeling like you’re standing in Germany when you’re really in Florida – it’s authentic. It’s an arresting, tranquil place to forget about the worries on your mind. And it’s not flashy, like a five-star resort in Shanghai, but it will have everything you want and plenty more than you need.
I don’t think I’ve ever slept better than I did there, listening to the soothing sounds of the Adriatic and the gentle hum that the activity of people seem to make…
A small collection of moments from my time in Opatija.
If you decide to check Opatija out, here are the things you won’t want to miss:
As mentioned earlier, it’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the town, and the museum inside will be able to give a much more in-depth account than my brief post about the history of the town. ADDED BONUS: the park surrounding Villa Angiolina is a green thumb’s dream, boasting over 150 different plant species both native to the region and other parts of the world.
Maiden with the Seagull
This statue has become one of the symbols of the town, and is recognizable across Croatia. It is, however, a new sculpture in comparison to others in Opatija. Maiden with the Seagull was erected in 1956 by the sculptor Zvonko Car. In its place once stood the Madonna del Mare, which was demolished by communists after the end of World War II.
Abbey of Saint James
This 14th-century Benedictine abbey, Opatija Sv. Jakova, or Abbey of Saint James, from which the town gets its name (“opatija“ means “abbey” in Croatian) can be found in Park Svetog Jakova or Saint James’s Park. Saint James’s Church, originally built in 1506, now stands in the same spot.
Casino Rosalia A less common destination in the town, but fun if you’re looking for a little luck, is the Villa Rosalia, which today is known as Casino Rosalia. Originally constructed in 1896 as a luxurious villa for Austrian aristocracy, it was later credited as being the first casino in eastern Europe.
Seaside of Opatija Last, and my personal favorite, part of Opatija you won’t want to miss is simply walking along the stone path that winds through the majority of the water’s edge of the town. There’ll be places to lay out in the sun as you pass, to climb rocks, to take the perfect snapshot, and to look at various street vendors’ art.
Left: Me snapping a photo while being snapped in Opatija near Hotel Kvarner.
Right: The garden in front of Villa Angiolina facing the Adriatic Sea.
When most people think of a coastal town in Croatia, their first instinct is usually to name Split. And for a good reason – it’s the second largest city in Croatia and it’s full of beautiful sights, sounds, and smells, both outside and in its night clubs. However, a lesser known to travelers, but equally as beautiful, town on the coast is Opatija. Farther north than Split on the Adriatic, it rests at the foot of Učka mountain.
Now, when I arrived in Croatia on a delayed flight coming from a layover in Munich, I’m not going to lie, all I cared about was how exhausted I was. I had difficulty paying attention to what I was seeing in my tired haze, and all I really remember are the street lights. Myself and the group I was traveling with had landed in Zagreb, the capital, but we were staying in Opatija for the first two nights, which was about two hours west on the coast. Thankfully, I wasn’t the one making the drive in the middle of the night fresh off an international flight, so we rode on in the night as the majority of us slept.
I don’t even fully remember going to my room and plopping down on my bed, but I absolutely remember waking up. It was just before 8am and I slowly started to realize a few things all at once:
1. My body ached. It was sore as if I had worked out really hard the day before. What this really meant was that I wasn’t drinking enough water. Rookie mistake.
2. I could smell salt. Overwhelmingly so. The first peek of my eyes alerted me to the fact the hotel room window was open. We’re still not sure whether I or my roommate opened it.
3. I could hear waves. The kind of peaceful waves I imagine masseuses play in massage parlors, lulling you into a meditative state.
When the third realization really hit me, my eyes opened again. Waves? I hadn’t expected to be able to hear them so clearly. I had known Opatija was on the coast, but I hadn’t realized we were staying on the water. I darted out of bed and ran to the window, and that, my friends, is the moment I fell in love with this country.
At the window, I foolishly realized I had been too hasty. There’s a reason I wear contacts. Oh yeah, I had thought, I still can’t see. Everything in my line of sight at the window was blurry, a mixture of blues and greens and white. But for a moment it hadn’t mattered, the colors had blended together in such a way that I almost forgot my poor eyesight. And when I closed my eyes I could feel the wind, hear the waves and birds, smell the saltiness of the Adriatic, and I knew. I knew I loved Croatia.
I grabbed my iPhone off of the bedside table and snapped a picture right then and there, without actually knowing what I was taking a picture of. The result, as I saw later and you see now, was as breathtaking as I imagined it.
As quick as I could muster my protesting limbs to get ready, I was dressed for the day and down in the lobby, ready to explore.
In a second post coming tomorrow, I’ll detail some of the finer points of Opatija. Stay tuned!
It’s not an overstatement to say that, to date, the summer of 2013 was the best summer of my life.
In mid-May I crammed my backpack and got on a plane to Croatia, knowing that I wouldn’t step foot back on American soil until mid-June. In that span of time, I would get to know the kind and genuine disposition that every Croatian I came across seemed to possess. I would see the modern day world and historic ruins come together in Budapest, Hungary. I would discover gruff appearances aren’t always what they seem at a closet-sized bar in Bratislava, Slovakia. I would even wake up to the smell and sounds of a daily 6am market in Prague, Czech Republic. And all of that would only be the first two weeks.
From there, I would continue on to many towns and cities throughout Austria, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany before eventually returning home. And I’m not skipping over the details – I’ll get to those in time. I’m just pausing to take a comprehensive look at it all for a moment.
Before my trip, I had about a thousand reasons to be excited and eager for it all to get started. I knew the trip would be like nothing I had ever experienced before, and for some time after my plane first took off to take me overseas I felt liberated. But if I’m completely forthright about how I felt, I have to admit I was honestly a bit of an internal mess. I was worried about spending money, worried about hostels, worried about getting on the right trains, worried about getting lost without a map, worried about theft, worried about making one backpack of clothes last a month. The reasons I thought I had to be worried seemed endless.
Then I came across a quote right before I left for my European escapade, and it couldn’t have shown itself to me at a better time. It read,
“I would rather own little and see the world, than own the world and see little of it.” My internal concerns had been at an all-time high when I read that. But for some reason, the words put me at ease.
Yes, spending money would be tight after converting from the dollar to the euro, but I’d make it work. Yes, some hostels could potentially be gross and crowded, but I’d put in earplugs and get through it. And yes, trains might be confusing, I might get lost, someone might steal my headphones when I fall asleep, and yes at the end of the month all of my clothes might stink – but really, how bad would all of that be?
I became acutely aware how right on the money the “First World Problems” jokes were. I was traveling with two other people while in Europe, and learning to poke fun at ourselves was sometimes the best thing to do.
“You mean worst-case scenario we skip eating lunch so we can eat wherever we want for dinner? How horrible.”
“So worst-case scenario we miss our train and have to spend an extra night in Budapest? How awful.”
“Wait, worst-case scenario we get into Rome an hour late because we got on a local line instead of an express? Poor, poor, us.”
I really don’t think worst-case scenarios get any better than that.
Despite anything bad or inconvenient that could happen – and trust me, some things absolutely would go wrong – I was still experiencing parts of the world that some people will go their entire lives without ever even getting the chance to see. And at the end of it all, if the stench from my clothes made people around me uncomfortable, if I was completely broke, and all I had to my name was a rich plethora of stories and encounters, it would be worth it.