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Croatia Europe

Inside a Croatian Wedding

With Rachel’s bachelorette weekend looming in the near future, and her wedding only 2 weeks away, I’ve been preoccupied with marriage recently. A large part of the reason I am visiting the U.S. this October is to attend her wedding. With all recent the matrimonial preparations, I’ve been thinking about the last wedding I attended and realized I never blogged about it.

Three months ago I attended my first Croatian wedding for my friend, Sara, and her new husband, Mislav. It started with about a month of me wavering back and forth between if I should fly to Zagreb (I desperately wanted to) or if I should stay in India (and save money, work, be responsible, etc..). I told my mom the ticket was a bit pricey. She told me, “It’s worth it to keep these types of friendships alive.” That was all the excuse I needed.

Wedding Zagreb
Sara and Misalv

I met Sara 6 years ago in Budapest, Hungary. Sara was an Erasmus student studying in the same university as me (CEU). For those of you unfamiliar with Erasmus, it is a bit like an EU-funded study abroad program for European citizens. Martina (also from Croatia) and Lena (from Germany), along with Sara and I, formed a bit of a small “group” within our larger international group of friends at the time.

Having never lived abroad before, my first week in Hungary I felt incredibly out-of-place and a bit nervous about spending four entire months in a foreign country. Despite being part of a study abroad program, the university was comprised almost entirely of Master’s students, all older than me by a few years. At the time, I was a radically different person than I am now: shy, studious, a bit “type A.” I had my future entirely planned out: graduate school, PhD in history, staying with my college boyfriend forever, living comfortable on the East Coast. I was not the type of person who would try couch surfing, living in India, trekking alone in Nepal, or backpacking solo through the Middle East.

But once I got to Budapest, I started questioning who I thought I was and who I wanted to be. I made so many intelligent and independent friends living all over the world and I started wondering how I could continue living such a cosmopolitan existence.

This is a long-winded way of saying my time in Budapest, and with Sara (and Martina & Lena) is still extremely important to me. So, despite the slightly expensive cost of the plane ticket from Delhi to Zagreb, I decided that it would be great to see these girls again and keep these friendships alive. I’ve met so many people traveling and most of those friendships look a bit unraveled. I barely speak to anyone from my Master’s program despite only having graduated about a year ago. I’ve met so many unique people and many who I’ve cared about quite deeply. But, ultimately, when you move every year, you lose contact. So when I get a chance to reconnect with important people, I feel as though I should take it. And when Sara sent us a message inviting us to her wedding, I started checking plane tickets.

Budapest Night Life
(From Right to Left): Martina, Sara, Lena, and me circa 2010 in Budapest, Hungary

Plus, in July 2016 it had been 11 months since I had been in a Western country and I was starting to feel desperate for some familiarity. Yes, at this point Croatia counts as familiarity. It has beef, short skirts, and it’s relatively easy to buy normal products like tampons and moderately priced good wine.

I landed in Zagreb near the end of June and Sara picked me up from the airport. I felt a slight bit of anxiety before she arrived. Perhaps the four of us had changed too much. Maybe we were too different after 6 years and it would be an awkward trip. We had had a reunion in Budapest 3 years prior when I was living in Prague. But 3 years is still a long time.

Two weeks later I was bawling in the airport, wishing I didn’t have to leave and go back to India (I was obnoxiously sleep deprived which didn’t help).

I had so. much. fun. The first day I visited with Sara and met her (then) finance (now husband), Mislav. When you meet a couple and can instantly note the spark between them, it makes celebrating their relationship even more special. Mislav had me laughing all through dinner; he seemed like a great guy. Then Lena flew in from Germany. Since Sara was (understandably) pre-occupied finishing her wedding planning, Lena and I made ourselves scarce and took a bus to Dubrovnik to enjoy the sea and some sun before the big day.


The Wedding

Croatian Wedding
Me with Sara and Lena before the wedding

Sara had some friends to her apartment a few hours before the service for drinks and snacks. Even after she left for the church, we continued drinking at her apartment. The we drove to downtown Zagreb and got to take the funicular up the hill to the church for the marriage.

Croatian Wedding
Pre-wedding drinks


Riding the funicular

The ceremony was short and sweet (great for Lena and I since it was entirely in Croatian). I found it interesting that the bride and groom enter the church and walk down the aisle with the priest. The father leading his daughter down the aisle is very American and few people partake in that ritual.

Croatian Wedding

Then we all left the church for the reception!

Sara and Mislav hosted their reception at the Mimara Museum in downtown Zagreb. It’s a cool art museum which had a spacious lobby and reception hall perfect for the event. Sara put the three of us at a table with some of her colleagues at the library in which she works so it was a very “young professional” table.

 Mimara Museum
Martina and I in front of Mimara Museum

After Sara and Mislav had their grand entrance, we began the first of SEVEN COURSES!  After the first course, Sara and Mislav had their “first dance” and were soon joined by the majority of guests. Then, a pattern emerged: eat, drink, dance, repeat. Literally, after an hour or two, the live band would cease playing, the colorful lights turned out, the regular lights flashed on, and everyone returned to their tables to eat. The wine flowed, the guests indulged. Then, within 30 minutes or so, the lights turned off, the band retrieved their instruments, and the dancing resumed. This lasted from around 8pm until after 4am.

Zagreb Wedding
Photo courtesy of Lena
Zagreb Wedding
Croatian Wedding
The music consisted of a mixture of popular English sounds and some Croatian music

The food was delicious. My favorite course was actually the first:

Croatian Wedding
Course 1

I could eat sliced meat and cheese for every meal. Salami and prosciutto aren’t meats I have the pleasure of eating often in India. Pork isn’t very popular. Fancy cheeses seems to be of a new “thing” in Chandigarh but still a rarity for me. Sadly I filled up on the meats in the first round of food and had difficulty eating much of the rest:

Croatian Wedding

Croatian Wedding
Course 2: soup
Croatian Wedding
Course 3: A heavenly traditional cheese pastry. Possibly called “strukli” but possibly not. I’m still working on my listening skills…
Croatian Wedding
Course 4: A fabulous plate of schnitzel and other cooked meats
Croatian Wedding
Course 5: assorted pastries
Croatian Wedding
Not a course-wedding cake! (Served around midnight)
Croatian Wedding
Course 6: lamb  (served at 1:30am)
Croatian Wedding
Course 7: Goulash (served around 3 am)

Around 3:30am (approaching 4am) Martina, Lena, and I said our goodbyes to Sara and left for Martina’s apartment. Lena and I both booked ridiculously early flights for that morning so once I got to Zurich for my layover I was extremely sleep-deprived and passed out hard on my flight to Delhi.

To reiterate, as someone who moves almost annually, I cycle through friendships faster than I would like. Most of these people probably have no idea how influential they have been to me or how often I think about them. I credit Budapest with most of who I am today. I don’t throw around the term “life changing” often but those 4 months truly were. I’m so happy with my decision to attend Sara’s wedding. Besides being an amazing party and getting to experience a Croatian wedding, it, more importantly, gave me a great excuse to revisit old friends and reminisce on old Budapest times.

Trim Ireland
Europe Ireland

Finding Baby Bones in a 16th Century Graveyard

The summer before my final year of University I decided to participate in an archaeological excavation. In fairness, it was part of UNC’s Archaeology major. Plus, how cool is that?

You’d be surprised how many field schools there are across the planet offering course credit for a summer excavating. If anyone is interested, here is a database of current excavations looking for volunteers or students worldwide. I literally chose Ireland because the semester before I took a class called The Medieval Expansion of Europe and we discussed British rhetoric of Ireland in the late Medieval period, which is how the stereotype of Ireland as mystical and full of magical creatures became perpetuated. I figured, why not try to dig up a Leprechaun or two?

Here’s a very weird and very, very vulgar short film about a leprechaun. I strongly urge anyone who dislikes anything remotely weird and vulgar to not watch it and judge me.

I’m writing this blog post at 3am IST. So forgive the inappropriate content on my otherwise tasteful blog.

Obviously, I imagined myself as Indian Jones (Gwendiana Jones), digging up ancient relics and consequently stumbling upon some sort of crazy mystical quest in which I save the day. I was only slightly disappointed to find out most of my archaeological dig consisted of labeling roof slates from the 14th and 15th century.

Archaeology Excavation

Archaeology Excavation
There are worst ways to spend your time….


The Site

The month of July 2011 I worked on the site named “The Black Friary” (An Mhainistir Dhubh), a Dominican Friary located in Trim, Ireland, built in 1263. If you aren’t sure what a friary is, think of Friar Tuck from Robin Hood.

Disney’s Robin Hood is clearly the superior Robin Hood

Friars give up their worldly possession and follow a simple life dedicated the God. They are similar (though slightly different) than monks.The Dominicans are one of the biggest orders.

Anyway, in 1540 King Henry VIII decided no one was going to be Catholic anymore and so all the Irish monasteries (and friaries) were abandoned or destroyed.

Four and a half centuries later, our job was to find out where the friary walls were located and to make sense of the general structure of the building. Instead we just kept  digging up skeletons. So many skeletons. We even changed where we were digging to avoid skeletons and found MORE  skeletons.

Archaeology Excavation

Some people found some pretty cool stuff. Like this girl Malika from Washington who found a great example of an intact skull. People were pretty excited about that.

The Baby

But no one was really excited when I found a dead baby. Everyone got really sentimental and sad.

Archaeology Excavation
Itty Bitty Skull
Archaeology Excavation
Itty Bitty Legs

I really tried to look misty-eyed about the whole thing and I think I did a damn good job pretending to be sad. But it’s kind of hard to be sad about a baby that died in something like 1300. My guess is that a lot  of babies died in 1300 (that factoid brought to you with my fancy B.A. in History. And they said I’d never use it…) When you think about the disease and violence of the time, most babies didn’t stand a chance. Academically, I find it an interesting mental exercise to think of all the reasons the baby may have failed to reach childhood. The Plague? Exposure? Hunger?

Excavating a baby is extremely difficult, not just emotionally From what it seemed, the baby’s coffin must have slid into a vertical position at some point as I found most of the baby upright. The legs were laying horizontally. Almost the entire thing had turned to dust. Baby bones aren’t nearly as sturdy as adult bones. I couldn’t even move it into a box, it pretty much just crumbled before my eyes.

Archaeology Excavation
Malika with her adult skull

Despite not feeling particularly sad about the baby, I did take issue with the way the Irish handle human remains on digs. While the team “got sad” about the baby, skeletons of people sat idly on the top of an oven.

Actually, I’m not really sure there are  any regulations on dead bodies in Ireland. In the US, the regulations are actually quite strict. For decades, archaeologists dug of the remains of Native Americans and kept them in shoe boxes or beer cases. This is problematic since some tribes believe in ancestor worship and the burial of the individuals is very spiritually important. Totally fair. These skeletal remains have since been returned to the tribes for reburial. Although I don’t believe in ancestor worship, I do believe we should respect the dead.

It doesn’t help that the rest of the summer I was pretty certain I was being haunted. Which I wrote about here.

Does anyone else feel particularly strongly about the idea of being dug up a few centuries from now?

Archaeology Excavation
The Remains of an Irish “bog person” on display at the National Museum in Dublin

*Friar Tuck Image from:

Croatia Europe

Why Not Send you Ex’s Crap to the Museum of Broken Relationships?

A few months ago I told someone I’ve had a different boyfriend every year since I was 20. They looked sort of disgusted. Fair. But I move around a lot. I’ve had a lot of relationships blossom and whither. It’s part of being a bit of a vagabond in your twenties, I suppose. I could get sentimental and say I have hoards of wonderful memories, a few regrets, and years of “romantic life lessons,” but more than any of that— I just plain have a lot of stuff. Seriously. Boxes filled to the rim of old boyfriends. A plethora of shit.

Some Normal:

My corsage from junior year which I pressed; jewelry from birthdays; a shirt that accidentally got into my suitcase the last time I saw him and since he loved it so much I feel bad throwing it out.

Some Excessive:

One of my ex’s moved cities and literally left me all of his stuff— utensils, plates, cups, a toaster, a vacuum, expensive speakers, etc… Getting a bunch of free stuff seemed like a good idea at the time until I realized every time I vacuumed I had to think of him. Trying to innocently eat toast and staring at the metal kitchen appliance romanticizing over the time he made me breakfast is just downright frustrating. So I put it all in a box in my apartment lobby with a sign that said “Free Stuff” and it was gone in an hour.

Some Downright Strange

A case of expensive darts; a broken traffic barricade,  a stuffed animal that his dead best friend gave him in childhood and that I still feel totally guilty owning.

I could literally build a museum with all these memories trickily disguised as flower vases and earrings. So in 2012, I was really excited to realize someone had actually already done this.

The Museum of Broken Relationships (Zagreb, Croatia) 

In 2012, I found myself unexpectedly wandering around Zagreb. From the center, I followed a path of little hearts laid out on the streets up a hill to a small museum. I returned to Zagreb last week, four years later.

Inside this incredibly innovative and creative museum, sentimental objects are paired with written stories documenting relationships and their ruins. The stories share how the object represents the unsuccessful liaison. Mostly they are romantic shortcomings, but others include strained relationships with family members, and even a small exhibit on refugee stories.

The items range from classic (mixed CDs and clothing items), to depressing (suicide letters), to strange (an axe used for “therapeutic purposes” to chop up the furniture of an ex-girlfriend before she returned from holiday).

The museum receives thousands of items from around the world. The stories are touching, tragic, and sometimes humorous. The idea is to help these people cope, heal, forget, and/or move on. They also remind us that letting go is part of life, as unfortunate and painful as that may be. Since they only ever display about 10% of the items they receive, the exhibit is constantly changing.

Museum of Broken Relationships

Museum of Broken Relationships
Honestly this sounds like me

Croatian artists Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić conceptualized the idea after seeing that society “oblige[s] us with our marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us any formal recognition of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect.”

Museum of Broken Relationships
The most depressing refugee story

Having received their collection from across the world, they recognize that culture and customs may affect the items and stories displayed, yet they believe that, despite this, it is clear that there are still “universal patterns offering us to discover [the stories] and feel the comfort they can bring. Hopefully they can also inspire our personal search for deeper insights and strengthen our belief in something more meaningful than random sufferings.”

If you want to read more about the museum, you can visit the website. The Museum is opening another location in Los Angeles this summer. So if you can’t make it to the original in Zagreb, be sure to visit the one in LA if you find yourself out West. If you don’t have the time to get to any museum, the founders have published a book of photos and stories from their collection.

Does anyone else have any strange objects from broken relationships they are holding onto? Or am I the only one with a dinky light-up snow globe I can’t bring myself to throw away because of how happy it made me when I was 20?

Museum of Broken Relationships
My personal favorite
Museum of Broken Relationships
A Photograph: “Florida lake where I skipped school with my boyfriend. The arrow indicates the spot where I first saw a penis in the sunshine.”