Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Repatriation is Like a Bad Breakup

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

About a month ago, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when a photo of a familiar street in Madrid popped up. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the blogger's profile, and I was immediately inundated with images of the stunning city I had just departed. This girl was frolicking through my favorite streets, sipping on tinto de verano at my favorite rooftop bars, and even brunching in my old neighborhood.

At first, I started tearing up. Then suddenly, envy began pulsing through my veins. "Who is this b*#@%?", I seethed with spite. "Why is SHE in Madrid? That's MY city. It should be ME that's there."

I had never even heard of this random girl's blog, and in reality I'm sure she is a great person. (And given that she was visiting all of my favorite spots in Madrid, we can assume she has good taste.) My childish, unwarranted rage made me feel like a jealous ex-girlfriend. And that's precisely when I realized that Spain broke up with me.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

During my first month home, all I felt was heartbreak. My heart literally hurt. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, and the throbbing aches in my chest stubbornly overpowered the jet lag I was so desperately clinging onto. I thought I had run out of tears when I cried all the way to Iceland, but apparently I was mistaken.

I had a lot of valid reasons for leaving Madrid. But now, blinded by the nostalgia of the past three years, I can't really seem to remember them. Something to do with sustainability, finances, and pursuing the next step in my career. Or whatever. I suppose since I left Madrid voluntarily, it was actually me who broke up with Spain. Either way, break ups suck. The fact that it was my decision to "end the relationship" doesn't make it hurt any less.

Repatriation is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

When you leave a place you love, you feel like you've left a chunk of your soul behind with you.

The process gets exponentially more complicated when you transition between cultures. When I first came to Madrid, I was worried about adapting to a new culture, functioning in an entirely different language, and essentially starting a new life from scratch. But after spending three years immersed in the language, culture, and quirks of another country, I've adopted countless Spanish customs as my own.

I've been stretched and challenged, I've expanded my world view, and ultimately, I've become a little bit more madrileña along the way. Coming home and being expected to feel like a star-spangled American again is like forcing a puzzle piece into a space that doesn't quite fit.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

But this time around, it's more than just reverse culture shock. The rug has been ripped out from under me, and gone are the days of two-hour lunch breaks, three-day weekends, and 30€ Ryanair flights whisking me off to my next destination. Since coming home, I've been forced to come to terms with the bitter realities of job hunting, buying a car, saving for grad school, and planning for the future.

Everyone in the USA is probably rolling their eyes and thinking, "Welcome to adulthood, Courtney. It's about time." And it's not my intention to sound entitled or pretentious. But it's a lot to digest at once, especially combined with changes in friendships and the social sphere, as well as those nagging reminders of how leaving Spain absolutely shattered my heart.

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

I want to be wandering the streets of Malasaña, sipping on vino tinto in Plaza de las Comendadoras, and going on last-minute getaways with my fellow expat friends. I want to be sinking my teeth into a gooey pincho de tortilla at Bodega de la Ardosa. I want to savor vermouth before lunch, tapas crawl in La Latina, and sobremesa for hours afterwards. 

I miss the way Spanish words roll off my tongue and dance languidly in the warm air. I miss watching the street lamps ignite at dusk, making you feel as if the day’s adventures are only just beginning. I miss the feeling that anything is possible, and that seeing the world is a tangible reality. Madrid helped me become the best version of myself, and right now, I’m not sure how I'll be able to preserve that.

I might not sound very original, considering countless other ex-expats have already shared this quote, but it's a frighteningly accurate portrayal of how I'm feeling right now:

"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."- Miriam Adeney

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

It's been about seven weeks since I returned to the States, and I'm pleased to report that I'm doing a lot better than when I first moved back. Since this feels like a breakup, my natural instinct is to lie on the couch, eat guacamole and binge-watch Seinfeld. However, I've been keeping up a crazy schedule of job hunting, interviewing, reconnecting with friends and family, stepping up my exercise regime, and conquering my irrational fear of driving. (But in full disclosure, I still watch Seinfeld.)

And I'm thrilled to announce that I've just accepted a full-time job that feels like the perfect fit for me! (I promise to divulge more details soon!)

Repatriation Is Like a Bad Breakup | Adelante

The Madrid-shaped hole in my heart has yet to heal, and I doubt anything will ever completely fill it. But I'll continue to try to embrace this new chapter, plan more adventures, and be present in Seattle. Closing the door on my life in Spain has shaken me to my core, but my gut is telling me that this is where I need to be right now.


Fellow ex-expats, what has helped you cope with repatriation?


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Bucket List-Worthy Adventure At Plitvice Lakes

Why you need to add Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia to your bucket list now!

Is this real life?

The lullaby of rushing cascades filled the air, while a kaleidoscope of emerald trees and turquoise waters delighted the senses. Through the roar of the waterfalls above me, I felt entirely at peace as rogue droplets splashed my face. Lost in reverie, the sublime beauty of this enchanted forest lead me to wonder if it were all just a dream.

Though it looks like a scene from a wooded fairytale, Croatia's resplendent Plitvice Lakes National Park is anything but a figment of the imagination. A most impressive feat of nature, Plitvice Lakes is the ultimate bucket list-worthy adventure.

A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice Paradise

Nestled in the mountainous Lika-Senj County separating continental Croatia from the southern coast, sixteen cascading lakes create an otherworldly oasis. The terraced lakes beget a series of majestic waterfalls, highlighted by pools of clear jewel-tone water. Narrow hiking trails, boardwalks and electric boats guide you through the lush maze of tranquil lakes and rushing cataracts.

The water gets its dazzling color from the sun reflecting upon the minerals and vegetation in the water. While it may seem tempting to jump in, you'll receive a hefty fine for diving into the waters of this protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is also home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, making it a mecca for biologists, botanists and nature enthusiasts. That said, it doesn't take a scientist to appreciate the complex beauty of this ecological wonder.

A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Practical Tips

Just a two-hour drive from Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park makes for a convenient stop on the way to the Dalmatian Coast. If you don't have a rental car, the park is also accessible by bus. While it's possible to see the entirety of the park in several hours, shutterbugs should allow more time to linger. Hours of operation and ticket prices can be found here.

While the park offers a limited selection of overpriced meals, your best bet is to pack a lunch. Wear comfortable walking shoes, but adorning full hiking gear isn't necessary. Since the crowds are in full-force come summertime, consider spending the night in a nearby hotel and visiting the park in the morning before the swarms of tourists arrive.

And please, I beg of you, don't bring a selfie stick.

A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
A bucket list-worthy adventure at Plitvice Lakes, Croatia


Is Plitvice Lakes already on your bucket list?
(If not, what more do I need to do to convince you?!)


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Discovering Continental Croatia

Discovering the highlights of continental Croatia | Adelante

Often overlooked for the glamour of the Dalmatian Coast, continental Croatia abounds with charms that are not to be missed. From the vibrant capital of Zagreb to the lush rolling hills of Zagorje, countless hidden gems are sprinkled throughout this underrated region.

Compared to the Mediterranean vibes of its coastal counterparts, continental Croatia boasts a distinctly central European flair. In turn, fewer tourists flock to the charismatic inland region. While its darling villages, medieval castles and impressive cuisine deserve a larger fan club, the smaller crowds allow for a more authentic taste of Croatia.

Though Croatia's coastal treasures are magical in their own right, it's worth getting off the beaten path to discover the highlights of continental Croatia.


ZAGREB

Zagreb | Discovering Continental Croatia

Croatia's quirky capital has become a vibrant hub of culture, arts and gastronomy. Surrounded by striking architecture reminiscent of the Austro-Hungarian empire, one may feel transported to nearby central European capitals, such as Budapest or Vienna. While some of its aesthetics may be similar, Zagreb playfully upholds a distinct personality.

From colorful street art to offbeat galleries, such as the Museum of Broken Relationships, there's no shortage of things to do in Zagreb. Explore the upper town, admire the picturesque cathedrals, indulge in the café culture, or experience the nightlife on Tkalčićeva Street. For some of capital's best cuisine, head to Vinodol for the roasted lamb and a phenomenal selection of wine.

Zagreb | Discovering Continental Croatia
Zagreb | Discovering Continental Croatia
Zagreb | Discovering Continental Croatia


After experiencing Zagreb's lively and unconventional charms, take a day trip to the lush Zagorje region, stopping at:


TRAKOŠĆAN CASTLE

Trakoscan Castle | Discovering Continental Croatia

Hidden in the hills of Zagorje, medieval Trakošćan Castle commands the countryside. Built as a fortress in the late 13th century and later inhabited by nobility, this historic manor functioned as a private residence until the state claimed the land in 1944.

The castle is adorned with historic furniture, decorations, weapons and photography displays. Among the well-preserved rooms, the antiquated kitchen is perhaps the most intriguing. Though the castle is not as opulent as other European palaces, Trakošćan gives a unique glimpse into the lives of Croatian aristocracy.

IMG_3668-9
Trakoscan Castle | Discovering Continental Croatia

VARAŽDIN

Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia

Straight out of a fairytale, the delightful village of Varaždin has all of the medieval charm of Prague without any of the crowds. Formerly the capital of Croatia, Varaždin is home to a majestic castle, an impressive array of museums and palaces, and a parade of pastel buildings.

With its quaint cobblestone streets, whimsical Baroque architecture and bright bursts of color, one can't help but wonder, "Where are the hordes of tourists?" While Varaždin's lack of crowds may initally come as a surprise, it is a decidedly refreshing change of pace.

The town itself is so darling, you halfway expect the locals to burst into song. If Trakošćan Castle didn't already make you feel like royalty, wandering the streets of Varaždin will surely turn Zagorje into a real life Disney movie.

Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia
Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia

RESTORAN BEDEM

Bedem, Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia

Named one of the Top 10 restaurants in Croatia, Bedem is the crown jewel of Varaždin. Two distinguished Croatian chefs have come together to establish this gastronomic gem, which is nestled just behind Varaždin's castle. Using fresh and local ingredients, Bedem serves some of the highest quality creations in continental Croatia.

Here I indulged on a five-course meal that was arguably one of the best dining experiences of my life. Every dish was bursting with flavor, and the chefs went above and beyond to accommodate my gluten-free needs. Out of all the incredible meals I devoured in Croatia, my feast at Bedem was surely the most memorable.

Bedem, Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia
Bedem, Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia
Bedem, Varazdin | Discovering Continental Croatia


Just a two-hour drive from Zagreb, you can also find the sublime natural wonders of Plitvice Lakes National Park


Is Croatia on your bucket list?
If so, would you venture inland?