Balkan Adventure: A Journey to the “Motherland”

A few weeks ago, my teammates packed up our rented STINT mobile and began our Balkan tour with a  five-hour trek through the Croatian countryside to Split — an ancient city with a rich history and an exotic, Eastern-European feel.

Upon arrival that evening, the warm, salty sea air, palm trees, and old architecture greeted us like friends. We strolled along the stone streets, illuminated by street lanterns positioned along the buildings. Along the shore stood several cafes with seating that faced the sea. “This is beautiful,” I exclaimed, repeating this nearly every time I turned a corner. I was surprised at how nice the old city was.

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After spending the night at the Tchaikovsky Hostel, a few minutes’ walk to the shore, we ventured through town, passed the crowded fish market and narrow streets, to Diocletian’s Palace, the focal point of the city. The nearly two-hour walking tour of the palace was a great use of our time. Not only did we see the best preserved palace and walk along the original stone streets, but we also learned the history of the 4th century palace and of Diocletian, the only Roman emperor to retire.

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Jupiter’s Temple

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Diocletian’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few interesting facts I learned:

1. Diocletian’s Palace is so well preserved because people have been living inside the palace walls since it was built.
2. Diocletian worshipped Jupiter, and he believed he was the son of Jupiter. And there are 3,500 year old sphinxes from ancient Egypt that guard Jupiter’s Temple.
3. Diocletian chose to retire to Dalmatia (Split) because he believed the water had healing qualities for his arthritis. (The water in Split has a high amount of sulfur. He also grew his own cabbage, which also has a high amount of sulfur in it.)
4. The room of the palace pictured below is the vomitorium. The vomitorium was common in the Roman Empire because it was customary for privileged guests to make themselves vomit during and after a 27-course feast to show appreciation to the emperor. A 27-course meal is a little excessive, if you ask me.

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I found some beautiful flowers inside the palace.

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And I found the smallest street in Split.

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“Helena Pedina from Hercegovina”

There’s a story that’s been passed down in my family about my great maternal grandmother, Helena Pedina from Hercegovina. Actually, it’s not really a story so much as it’s a joke about her birth name. How often do you meet a Helena Pedina from Hercegovina? So naturally, it’s now a running joke with my team. (My mom’s family is from Croatia and Albania, as well.) Anyway, my mom, Helene, was actually named after her, so you understand why I was so excited to tour this region.

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After two nights in Split, our team continued our adventure to Mostar, Bosnia Hercegovina, a city with a mix of old and new. The newer part of the city surrounds the older part. The newer city still has remnants of the 18-month siege during the Bosnian War in the early nineties. Golfball-sized bullet holes blanket run-down buildings and abandoned parking garages. Though the city is striving to rebuild, these buildings serve as a dark reminder of the country’s past.

In the older part of the city stands the Old Bridge, a 16th century bridge built by the Ottomans. Although the bridge was destroyed during the Bosnian War, it has since been rebuilt. This landmark is symbolic of the connection between east and west. On both sides of the bridge is a maze of souvenir shops full of scarves, trinkets, paintings, copper pots, jewelry, and postcards. (I caved and bought a beautiful oil painting of the Old Bridge from a second-generation artist, pictured below.)

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As we made our way out of the city, we stopped at the Karadjoz-Beg Mosque, another 16th century landmark. The architecture boasts with intricate details. From the top of the minaret, we had the best view of the city. But the height was too much for me to handle, especially after climbing the steep and narrow 100 steps to get to the top. I couldn’t really enjoy the view because I was so close to hyperventilating. So within a minute, I had to go back down. I guess you could say that the view was “breathtaking.”

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After a few hours in Mostar, we once again hit the road, traveling to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia Hercegovina. Sarajevo also has an interesting past, which is particularly evident in the architecture and overall look of the city. The capital has a mix of modern shops and parks, concrete buildings from the Communist era, along with old Austro-Hungarian and ancient Ottoman influences.

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Avaz Twist Tower

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An Old Market

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The balcony where Tito would speak.

I love history and seeing historic landmarks (I get that from my dad), so the one thing I really wanted to see was the Latin Bridge, where WWI began. If you remember from history class in high school, the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. This was the spark that started the war. A museum now sits at the corner to show the history of the time period,  and it also displays the pistol that Princip used, as well as his pants (pictured below).

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Tourism aside, I think the best part of the trip, though, was spending time with the Sarajevo STINT team (a team who is laboring for the Gospel, like we are in Slovenia) and meeting other Bosnian believers who have a heart for their country. And I’m so thankful for the hospitality of the local church that welcomed us and cared for us while we were there. What a blessing it was to be encouraged by this team, spend time sharing stories, eat some čevapčiči (chay-vap-che-chee) together, and just get to see their lives and ministry in Sarajevo. Because of this, I came home with a greater heart for the world and a greater perspective on perseverance for the Gospel in Slovenia. And for that, I am thankful.

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Just GO somewhere: Reasons you should travel

Recently, I’ve been dreaming more and more about traveling the world. You would think that going out of the country twice this year would be enough, but there’s something that is just so appealing to me about traveling, and it makes me want more.

Like you may have read on the “Who I Am” page or in my last post “23 Things,” my parents started exposing my brother and me to travel when we were tiny. (They’ve been all over the world, too!) When I was 10, I took my first overseas flight and the four of us toured six countries in Europe for three weeks. I’m pretty sure that when you’re exposed to travel, you don’t want to stop. Or maybe that’s just me!

Skip to my college years. Throughout the last four years, I’ve had the amazing opportunities to visit 11 countries on four continents to do mission work, study abroad, complete thesis research, and just to explore. During each of these travels, God opened my eyes to new experiences, cultures and ways of life, as well as to the stories of the people I met. And I want to encourage you to do the same.

I’ve compiled reasons I think YOU should travel to new cities, new states, new countries, and new continents. Here’s my plug… Just GO somewhere!

To see the world and to see God’s beautiful creation. This may sound obvious, but there’s so much beauty beyond what we see in our own worlds.

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(The Norwegian Fjords)

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(The canals of Amsterdam)

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(The Atlas Mountains of Morocco)

To experience new culture and new ways of life. We have a tendency to be ethnocentric and think our ways are the best. But we can really learn from seeing how other people and the rest of the world functions. When I lived in a village in Morocco, I was able to watch how the villagers walked through each day. While their lives were difficult, and most of them worked very hard, there was a simplicity to their lives that I envied. Read more about my experiences here.

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(Grand Mosque, Casablanca)

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(A traditional Berber house, Tighza, Morocco)

To try new food. While I do love hamburgers, fries, cobb salads, and most American foods, the rest of the world has so many flavors that are so much better! Fresh salmon in Norway, masala and curry in India, French cheeses and bread, Belgian chocolates, Mediterranean olive oils. And not to mention the coffee!! I may be biased, but Americans miss out on some good flavor.

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(Moroccan mint tea and cookies)

-To meet new people. Everyone has a story to tell if you take the time to listen. Most women I talked to in Morocco were readily willing to share their stories with me. What an incredible opportunity it is for us to love people by simply listening. An example is Fatima’s story (pictured below).

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To learn new ways to communicate. Not everyone speaks English. It means a lot to nationals if you try to speak their native languages. I remember learning short phrases like “Aapka naam kya hai?” (“What is your name?” in Hindi) and “Salaam, la bas?” (a typical Tachelhit greeting, like “Hello. How are you?”) to help relate to the nationals.

To appreciate what you have and to put things in perspective. Hearing about a place or different people is not the same as actually seeing it for yourself. I heard about the brothels in Mumbai, but until I actually met the women in the brothels, I could isolate myself from this tragedy. This is the same for how women are treated in Moroccan villages. I’ve read and heard so much about how women are treated in traditional Muslim cultures, but I didn’t fully grasp it until I saw it for myself.

It’s a call to action to participate in what God is doing outside of yourself. Life is not about glorifying ourselves; it’s about glorifying God. We are called to be the hands, feet, and mouthpieces of Jesus to the world. Jesus’s command to believers is to go and make disciples of all nations. We are called to serve others and share Jesus. We have been blessed to be a blessing.

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I love how Paul says this in Romans 10:11-15. He writes, “As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”

If you haven’t already, create a bucket list of places you want to visit, and make it a point to see one of these places each year. I have a lofty goal of stepping foot in all 193 countries, meeting nationals, and sharing their stories and my experiences. Just the thought of that thrills me! I would also love to complete the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

In honor of all these places, and because of my love of maps, my dad and I bought an enormous world map (shown below) and put pins in all the locations we’ve visited. (I have one of my own in my room in Ohio.)

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Why do you think it’s important to travel? What places are on your bucket list?