We’re featuring some of the brightest Instagram storytellers in the Passion Passport community with our Instagram Spotlight series. This week, we’re highlighting five small European cities with Boris and Sandro of @brotherside.

Bruges, Belgium

Belgium never really appealed to me. In my ignorant mind, it always felt like one of those “mozzarella” countries with no color, smell, or taste — totally neutral. Why there, if I could go to France or the Netherlands? Also, a country where Marc Wilmots is the biggest football star is no real country, I thought back in my teens. Apparently, my love for Hoegaarden, waffles, and chocolate wasn’t strong enough to make me change my mind. A decade later, however, just like Collin Farrell and the other guy whose name I don’t remember, after a series of unfortunate events I found myself in Bruges.

Bruges is probably the moodiest place I have ever visited. At times it felt like a ghost city, even during normal hours. If you’re in the vicinity, make certain you pay Bruges a visit.

Lübeck, Germany

Low-cost airlines changed traveling forever. No place on earth has ever been cheaper and more accessible, which introduced endless masses of people to the beauty of traveling — people who would otherwise only see new places in movies.

However, those same airlines — along with the unstoppable advancement of technology — forever altered the profile of budget travelers.

Times when trips were planned months in advance, which included not only the route, but also the basics of the language, culture, and history of the country, are long gone. Nowadays, things work a bit differently — pick the cheapest flight (e.g. anywhere using Skyscanner), read a few Tripadvisor reviews, pin it on Google Maps, and make it available offline and you’re all set.
There’s no more point in even bothering with accommodation, since you can book one after you land and probably save money with a last-minute discount.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love traveling with minimal planning and find it much more satisfying than being constrained by some predefined itinerary. Lately, however, the line between adventure and pure ignorance has become thin, to the point where I wonder if it really exists anymore.

Furthermore, the new ways of traveling and the pure fact that you can fly to Iran for 200 euro make us appreciate our surroundings less than ever. The obsession to travel to far and exotic places often makes us overlook the beauty we have in our backyards.

Lübeck is one such place. A city with glorious history and architecture, just a stone’s throw away from Hamburg. Despite all this, it took me almost two years and a number of trips on three continents before finally witnessing the beauty of this picturesque town.

Hamburg, Germany

There are many perks of working as a PhD researcher. An environment that supports creativity, freedom to create research that interests you, the tangible possibility of making an impact, and extra vacation time if you get things done, just to name a few. Basically, all the things that “9 to 5” people dream about, and everything I used to dream about while growing up in Croatia.

However, the most important one  — at least for photography enthusiasts — are the ridiculously flexible working hours that allow you to shoot perfect conditions any time you want, whether it’s chasing the light, shooting jaw-dropping mammatus clouds, avoiding the annoying midday sun and hordes of people, or just skipping work to catch Queen Mary II with those rare hours of clear Hamburg winter sky.

Trondheim, Norway

Trondheim welcomed me with its trademark weather. Negative temperatures and snow falling horizontally, landing right in my eyes. But, after having lived here before, this time I was ready, covered with waterproof clothes from head to toe — a major step toward integration into Norwegian society. After all — as they say here — there’s no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.

Now, unless you’re the author of that quote or have a serious sun allergy, winters in Trondheim will probably get rough for you. It can easily take weeks for sun rays to find a hole in the endless fields of gloomy grey clouds. Therefore, on a rare occasion it does happen, you have to be ready to stop everything you’re doing, take out your dusty sunglasses from the back of a drawer, and just go out to enjoy the magical show of vibrant colors and wonderful architecture. After all, you never know if it will happen ever again.

Rijeka, Croatia

The 19th century was coming to an end and our hometown Fiume (now known as Rijeka) was under Austro-Hungarian rule. As an integral part of the mighty empire because of its international seaport, Rijeka witnessed immense economic and urban growth, which propelled it to the status of one of the true European metropolises. Times were so relaxed and local tycoons so bored of winning, they started showing off their wealth by building entire streets, which today represent some of the finest examples of historicists architecture from the end of the 19th century.

Fast forward to 2016. After yet another long period in exile, we finally found our way home, just in time for holidays. And there, nothing new — just typical places, faces, and customs. A stroll along the coast, yet another bitter experience with Croatian bureaucracy, lunch at our grandpa’s place. Old friends and acquaintances, poorly hiding their bitterness and hopelessness behind vague conversations.

But 150 years and a couple of rulers and countries later, the city tells a different story. The only growth it witnesses is the one in unemployment and emigration rates. With good times long gone, to a point where they became nothing more than a myth, Rijeka and its citizens are living a harsh reality, with no sign of improvement.

After four years abroad, it’s painfully obvious how the living environment affects one’s aspirations and attitude towards life. At the same time, being surrounded by the culture and people that made me the person I am today, it’s becoming equally obvious that there will never be a place like home.