I graduated from high school in 2005. Exactly one week after the graduation ceremony was held, five of my friends and I started our journey through Europe. It was only suppose to be a summer excursion, and all five of us decided on a “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” rule for our backpacking trip.
The five of us, two girls and three guys, began our trip in France. We made it to Paris, the Louvre, and the Palace of Versailles in a matter of days. We even managed to get a little wine tasting in! It was the most fun time I had ever had on a vacation.
After France, we made our way over to Germany. Honestly, I don’t remember much of Germany… Mostly because all five of us were so drunk. According to the pictures we took, we went to eight bars, three night clubs, and the Blankenhain Castle. The one moment I remember clearly (while intoxicated, which is very impressive) is that a man told me that I looked exactly like his aunt. I assured him it couldn’t be possible, since we were about the same age. He agreed, but told me I looked very familiar. My friends and I left Germany the next day.
We arrived in the Czech Republic two weeks into our travel. The capital, Prague, is where we spent most of our time. We caught a soccer… Excuse me: we caught a football game, where everything was so freaking expensive. I blew a quarter of my money in Prague alone! We only spent two days and one night in the Czech Republic.
At the end of the second day, we stayed in Vienna, Austria. The next morning we woke up quickly, got our things together and took a train to Croatia (which was our penultimate stop before heading back to France). We toured what seemed like the entire country in two days, finally settling down in Osijek, which is in the eastern part of Croatia.
My friends and I went to one bar the whole time we were in Croatia. We went there several times, but it’s still impressive. Anyway, the last time we went to that bar, one of the guys and I ran into this lovely Croatian couple. The man and I hit it off right away. Though he was significantly older than I, we had so much in common. My friend, John, and I were invited into their home for lunch the next day. Usually, I would not take offers like that from strangers, but I am glad that I did.
My friend and I met the couple at their home in Osijek around noon. They made us delicious goulash, which I can still taste on my tongue. We ate, then visited for a very long while. I received a phone call from my friends asking if John and I were alright. We couldn’t be having more fun! Finally, out came the pictures! The man and his wife kept telling me that I looked just like his sister when she was younger, and then showed me pictures. John and I were amazed at how true it was!
The couple told us that his sister, brother-in-law, and their children were murdered during the genocide in Yugoslavia, when it still existed. They were almost in tears when they told us the terrible story of how their family was murdered for protecting some Muslim friends. The parents were slaughtered, along with the Muslim friends, and the three daughters were given up for adoption. However, in the course of the adoption, two of the sisters were sold for sex, and the youngest daughter was hit by a ricochet bullet and died a few days, due to complications. It was an incredibly sad story.
The couple told John and I of how they were forced to move from their hometown, Vukovar, which was home of generations of their family. They finally settled down in Osijek in around 2003.
In high school, I took a class on the history of the world, and the breakup of Yugoslavia was only talked about a few times. Mostly it was a “it happened, and now there is Croatia, Slovenia, and a few other countries… Next lesson!” sort of topic. I had not an idea of the violent crimes that were committed during the breakup.
The couple continued to show us pictures of their family. I really did look like I fit right in to their family. I couldn’t get over it. The most amazing picture that I saw looked almost exactly like a photo I had in one of my albums. It was a picture of a little girl standing under a tree. She was wearing a blue dress with cream lace, and no shoes. I could have sworn I had the same picture!
Our visit with the couple was very emotional, and very long. John and I were at their house for a good five hours; talking and laughing. All four of us had a wonderful time. When we left, we exchanged addresses and telephone numbers so that we could keep in touch.
My friends and I left Croatia and made our way, by boat, to Italy! Italy was beautiful and we traveled the entire country, it seemed. We visited Vatican City, the Colosseum, the leaning tower or Pisa, and the ruins at Pompeii! It was quick travel, but exciting.
We ended our tour in France, where we took a flight back home.