Osijek. Two decades ago, this was the heart of Croatia’s war zone.
As I step off my river cruise, I’m given a rare opportunity: I’m about to dine with a family whose ancestors were affected by the Battle of Osijek.
Six people live in the quaint home – only one of whom can speak English. Some would find this frustrating. But somehow, it doesn’t matter. I am amazed as I watch the different cultures at play.
The father and mother, cradling a baby, sit with eight foreigners who’ve come knocking on their door from many far-flung places. Yet, somehow, it all works.
One child, maybe aged nine, is expertly playing a violin in the corner of the room, while her older sister is standing by, waiting to serve us our lunch. In the kitchen, her grandmother is creating what smells like a delicious, hearty meat dish.
We’re busying ourselves with conversation and, soon enough, out come two incredibly flavoursome pieces of traditional fare. The zagorski štrukli made with pastry, cheese and cream perfectly complements its veal counterpart.
The grandmother’s eyes light up when she notices how much we’re enjoying her cooking. It is a culinary icebreaker, and suddenly we are all sharing our stories.
Three hours after we first arrived, I depart, grateful for the experience.
Evergreen Tours strives to give its river-cruise passengers an unforgettable destination immersion. Other tours that are part of its ‘You’re Invited’ program include…
Home-hosted afternoon tea with a Slovakian family (Bratislava)
In the village of Šenkvice in Bratislava, a local family will be waiting to welcome you for afternoon tea. Traditional Slovak treats include buchty na pare (sweet steamed dumplings filled with plum jam, topped with poppy seeds or walnuts), pečené buchty (baked buns filled with plum jam, cheese or walnuts), medové rezy (a cake with layers of cocoa and honey dough filled with custard and jam, topped with chocolate) and bublanina (a light, fluffy coffee cake traditionally made with raspberries).
Be stunned by the colour and drama of Phare Circus (Siem Reap)
Witness this incredible Cambodian circus involving theatre, dance, music and circus arts infused with history and culture. Performers are street children, orphans and struggling families, and being involved in Phare Circus gives them a sense of pride and ownership in life.
Hear unique stories of the Cu Chi Tunnels (Vietnam)
Go on a guided tour with a Vietnam War veteran, through the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, the network of more than 200km of underground tunnels, built by the Viet Cong guerrillas as a means of protection, communication and deception. Guests have the option to venture into the tunnels, it is not for the claustrophobic, though – the passageways are 120cm tall and just 80cm wide.
Make lanterns with locals (Vietnam)
Visit Lifestart Foundation in Hoi An, an organisation helping the underprivileged to become self-sufficient. Learn the traditional arts of painting with a local artist. Then, make your own iconic Hoi An lantern; you may recognise the beautiful creations from the Full Moon Lantern Festival, held every night of the full moon in the ancient town on the 14th of the Lunar Calendar month. It’s on these nights that all electric lights are switched off, and Hoi An is alight with lanterns.