August 26, 2012
We left our hotel in Zagreb, Croatia, at 9:30 a.m. yesterday morning, and I pulled up in front of my house at 1:00 a.m. Factoring in the six-hour time change, that’s 21 and ½ hours of travel door to door.
At this moment I’m sitting in my favorite chair in the four-season room at my house, reflecting on the incredible adventure I just had over the past 12 days. I’m sure as time passes, and I share my thoughts with friends and family, the memories will continue to evolve, but in this moment, I wanted to record a few of things that are at the surface for me.
These thoughts are my impressions, and are not meant to generalize about an entire country or its people; these are simply how I personally experienced this voyage.
* Croatia is a beautiful country exceeded my expectations in every way. The contrast between the coast and the continent was dramatic, but overall there is a theme of breathtaking natural beauty.
* The people of Croatia that I met, or observed, were modest, somewhat serious, and very nice. In particular, our tour guide Vjekoslav and our bus driver Kreso were amazing. They contributed greatly to making the overall experience so wonderful. They were both generous in sharing their knowledge and experiences to help us best understand the culture of their country.
* Croatia is a very affordable country to visit. Their currency is the Kuna, and one dollar is equal to about 6 kunas. That coupled with low prices means the dollar goes very far in Croatia, something we all appreciated.
* It is a very safe and clean country. Of course you should always be aware of your surroundings, especially traveling somewhere new, but I always felt safe. And everywhere we traveled, from the coast to the downtown of the capital city of Zagreb, was very clean with little, if no, litter.
* The food was okay, much of the same foods we have in the States, but different enough to make you miss home. I was surprised by how much Italian influence there was. Pizza and pasta were staples for us when we were on our own for meals. The two fish dinners, mackerel served on the boat during the Kornati Islands excursion and our final dinner of trout, were both served much more basic than any of us were used to: whole fish - including the head on the trout - grilled and placed on the plate with a simple side. While it was not what many of us were used to, I give the guys a lot of credit. They all embraced the experience and ate it, or at least tried it. Ishmael Kalilou ’15 had the perfect solution: he put hot sauce on everything. Seriously. Everything.
* On the last couple of days, I started to take a poll of the guys to see what was the first thing they were going to eat when they got home. The most popular answer was a cheeseburger. Which is exactly what I had for lunch today.
* One of the nice things was we had the opportunity to take a lot of team photos throughout the trip at amazing locations like the Kornati Islands with its crystal clear blue water and Plitvicka National Park with its lush mountains, electric green lakes and waterfalls. There was one constant with the team photos: Youri Dascy ’14, who likes to “strike a pose” in every shot. Look through the team photos and you’ll see his moves.
* The comradery among the players was great to see. There is a wide range of personalities, like the more outgoing, gregarious natures of Jay Freeman ‘13 and Reuben Kanya ‘14 or the more quiet, reserved guys like Ben Bartoldus ‘14, Derek Retos ‘14 and Anthony Trapasso ‘13, but regardless of all the different styles, they are a team and I believe this experience will serve to make them stronger.
* As the only European on the team, Alex Schmidt ’14 made interesting contributions to many conversations throughout the trip. It was valuable to have someone with the understanding of both perspectives, European and American, to help us make important cultural connections.
* I really enjoyed the opportunity to spend quality time with the “adults” on the trip and to get to know our coaching staff even better. The coaches deserve a lot credit for their leadership and for fostering a positive team culture. An added bonus was the time I got to spend with Coach Meehan’s wife, Kris Locke Meehan. In the “it’s a small world” category, Kris and I are Brandeis classmates, Class of 1990, and even shared a Ziv our junior year. We’d stayed in touch, off and on, over the years, but this trip really reignited a friendship that I am very fortunate to have and look forward to building on.
* As I’ve mentioned, this was my first trip to Europe and I think Croatia was an excellent choice. Its rich and complicated history and incredible natural beauty combined for a fascinating experience. I’m very grateful for having had the opportunity. It was a trip of lifetime and I’ll never forget it.