Jane Ruth, who spoke at the afternoon sabbatical on Tuesday in the College Mennonite Church Fellowship Hall, owned a restaurant for eighteen years before selling it and embarking on a part-time job that would take her on a journey.  She began leading tour groups to Croatia.

The afternoon sabbatical on Tuesday was an international luncheon. These events are meant to introduce guests to a different part of the world through a guest speaker who has travelled or lived in a different country. A traditional meal is often served to accompany the speaker.

During Ruth’s lecture, she shared about her experiences in Croatia and about the country’s history, culture and heritage. Before the meal of cabbage salad, bread, cheese and olives and roasted chicken and vegetables, Ruth invited guests to enjoy the meal slowly, like Croats. Croatian meals have multiple courses and often last three or four hours.

The meal lasted a bit less than the Croatian average; when most were finished with their plates, Ruth began to share about her experiences.

Since her senior year in college, Ruth has had “the travel bug.”  She lived and taught in Europe from age 21 to 25 until returning to Pennsylvania to start her restaurant, The Tea Room. After fifteen years in the restaurant business, she began to wonder what she could do on the side.

Her family of four had travelled to Croatia in 1999 and discovered a place of deep beauty, though still recovering from the horrors of the recent war.  They found a world of rich heritage, a coastline lined with fishing boats, well-kept community and savory local cuisine.

Back home, restaurant patrons would ask why she kept going back. Why did she love it so much? Ruth attempted to explain her love for the country through pictures and stories. They suggested that she share her love for travel with others by bringing them along.

Testing the idea out, Ruth and a friend went to Croatia with their mothers to map out a tour. They mapped a basic tour by travelling to local villages and forming relationships with the people there.

In the early 2000s, Ruth started her tour business, Niche Touring.

Senior Emma Ruth, Ruth’s youngest daughter, explained that the name came from her mother’s desire to travel only to little-known places.

“The main thing she tries to emphasize is that you don’t go where the big tour groups go,” said Emma. “You go, she says, off the beaten path.”

Once, when the Ruth family was in Croatia, they were on a drive that ended up taking them to a small village with seemingly no place to eat.

“Then we saw this man on the street and he spoke a little English,” said Emma. “He invited us to his house and we ate dinner with him. So now that’s one of the places that tours go to, to see his vineyard and his home.”

In addition to Croatia, Ruth also takes tours to Guatemala and Belize. She holds a full-time job in sales in Philadelphia when she’s not travelling.

“Since that first visit years ago, my love of this place and people has grown, and I’ve used my experience to create and lead tours,” Ruth said. “It’s a journey that has helped me see the world through different lenses, and I’m delighted to invite others to learn and explore Croatia. The land, people and unfolding narrative continue to draw me back.”