Today is my last full day in Croatia. Tomorrow I leave on an 8:30 am flight which I’ll have to wake up for at 4:30 in the morning to make it all the way to the Zagreb airport on time.
General Thoughts & Feelings
It doesn’t feel like the end and I’m not quite sure how it has already come to this point. It feels premature and I have a constant yearning to keep holding on to it like a pre-teen child still clinging to her baby blanket. Everything feels all wrong now, as if I’m being cheated somehow. Perhaps that’s in part because I usually spend an entire summer in Zagorje while now I’ll be leaving just after a week and half here, which is far too soon. Many plans with friends and family never materialized and so now have to be put on hold until my next visit which will hopefully last much longer.
Just like when I arrived in Croatia last year, I again am a mess of emotions, which I know is due to being on the cusp of another move, another change. Seems like all I’ve encountered this year is change after change and all I desire is some time to myself to just stand still, but I’m not even afforded that because that’s life, isn’t it? It doesn’t stop for anyone.
I feel anxious, frustrated, a tad excited, and mostly sad. It typically depends on the day as sometimes I’m more optimistic than others. On these particular days, I see the opportunities in my return to the States, new adventures to be had. Then on the other days, which have prevailed most recently, I just feel numb and tired.
I always hate leaving Croatia. It’s never been just a place of vacation, especially now that I’ve lived and worked here for a year. It’s one of my four great loves (yes, I have four). It feels natural to be here and I feel better, am better, for being here. It’s a home I can never manage to say goodbye to. I do, of course, but without a sense of closure. Leaving is a wound that only heals when I return again. So I guess that means I’ll just have to come back again, eh? : )
It’s tough for me to write any of this right now. I stop every few sentences cold and get lost in hazy thoughts. So instead of trying to articulate how I feel, which doesn’t seem to be going so well, I’ll just work from past to present and see what surfaces.
A Look Back
Oh the beginning. Oh how it was tough. Sometimes unbearably so. Anyone who goes abroad to teach tells you it was hard at first, but that’s all they say, hard. It’s like everything they went through boils down to that one word, but it’s not a strong word, it’s a filler, meaningless. I remember conversations with other previous overseas teachers and looking back on them now I just want to shake them and say, “STOP TELLING PEOPLE IT WAS HARD THIS, HARD THAT.” Yes, it was hard, great, wonderful, but what else? Why was it hard?
So now I’ll tell you. But bear in mind that everyone’s experiences are different and the difficulties they encounter vary in context and duration. For me, it was hard because:
I had no formal teaching experience, aside from a TEFL certificate which I obtained after 130 hours of coursework and some student teaching and classroom observation.
I had no formal, organized guidance or orientation. I was literally thrown into teaching and my shelves were piled high with books and resources I didn’t understand how to approach but had to figure out mostly on my own in a week’s time before classes began.
There was a different working culture and environment to deal with which I would probably never encounter in the U.S.
The Croatian administrative/legal system was discouraging and drawn out. I spent a month going to the police station to be told each week that I needed to obtain some other new document before anything could be processed.
I was far away not only from U.S. family and friends, but also from Croatian family and friends, which I had hoped would be more accessible to me upon my arrival but proved to be nearly as out of reach as everyone in America.
I caught bouts of homesickness every now and then, which was natural and usually a direct result of all the stress I encountered.
It was very lonely for a long time, which exacerbated the stress. I was didn’t start making friends until my contract was half-way over in January.
“There is always something,” according to Croats, and there certainly was always something new and stressful to deal with, often on a daily basis.
I had trouble explaining certain new vocabulary words to students because that’s just not my forte in any situation so I often felt like I was failing them.
I had quite a few difficult students, some of which would never stop talking, some that didn’t come to class frequently and others that got crazy frustrated in an instant.
I had a very chatty and rambunctious teenage group that required me to constantly figure out new behavior management strategies and often I just felt like giving up, yet never did.
I also had a class of 10 and 12-year-olds and well, I’m not a kid person so I often didn’t understand how best to connect with them.
I had to balance my student’s needs with my school’s unfamiliar expectations and methodologies.
Some days it just felt so hopeless and at one point the stress got so bad that my body started to be physically affected by it.
So that’s generally why it was such a hard beginning for me. Of course there’s more to this list, stories that if you ask me I’ll tell you about, but I feel like I’ve given a fairly decent overview of the difficulties I encountered. And it wasn’t just hard, it was hellish.
But I got through it all, somehow. The trick? There isn’t any trick; it’s just a matter of continuing despite all the difficulties, all the crap. It’s much harder said than done but if you just keep pushing, the end will come and you’ll be so much stronger for getting through it.
And it helped too, that once most of the difficulties were overcome after a few months, once the half-way point past, the real fun began. So now here’s why I’m glad I stayed and powered through all the ridiculous work and stress:
I learned new facts and tidbits about Croatia by being immersed in its culture.
I traveled and got to see parts of the world, people, and cultures I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. I traveled around Croatia’s Istrian peninsula, to Slovenia, to Trieste, to Istanbul, to Amsterdam, and to Germany twice.
I became friends with amazing people who I always had a wonderful time with, who showed me how to embrace the relaxed Croatian lifestyle and to embrace new experiences.
I ended up loving all my classes and my students, many of whom I hope will keep in touch.
I learned how to deal with high stress situations and now feel like I can handle anything the world throws at me.
I learned how to laugh, really laugh, and see the endless potential life has for jokes and good times.
I learned how to shed parts of my old self to make room for improvements which have allowed me to become a strong, mature, well-rounded adult.
While the bullet points on this list don’t outnumber the ones from my previous list, what they contain is far more valuable. All the tough times now remain as distant memories while what I gained as a result of them has stayed close to my heart and ultimately will be what I’ll remember fondly for years to come.
A Look Forward
Now here I am, still in my PJs and already sticky from the crazy heat and humidity wave that has hit Croatia this week. By forcing myself to reflect back on the past year and write about it, I think to myself, “Look at what you’ve done! How far you’ve come! Bravo!” It’s like I’m having a pep talk going on inside my head, and its pretty great.
So how do I feel now? A bit better than when I started the post. A bit more open to greeting the end and a new beginning. But what does this new beginning entail? Seeing my lovely Michigan family and friends again, but beyond that I have no idea, really. I mean when I return to Michigan I’ll begin an internship for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, start back up working for Like Croatia, and write more freelance articles for One Green Planet. Yet I’m completely lost as to what will happen after my internship ends in August. My hope? A real full-time job that’ll allow me to work towards my personal mission of building a more sustainable and humane world. The reality? A long job search process that’ll end with a silent inbox and phone line and me screaming at the world, “JUST HIRE ME ALREADY. I’M AWESOME & I’LL SURPRISE YOU & YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU HIRED ME.” And then I’ll bang my fists on the table. Bah. It’s back to the drawing board, I guess. Fingers crossed.
I’ll try to stay optimistic. And I’ll try to immerse myself in the work and life I really want to lead. Like all new beginnings, it’ll be tough. But I can do tough now. I can do more than tough. So give me your best shot, world, and I’ll make something beautiful out of it in return.
And well, if all else fails then as I’ve said before, I’ll be back, Croatia, I’ll be back. : )
Biking, Waffles, and Chocolate -- My Week in Germany
I am lucky enough to have an awesome friend in Germany who was willing to host me earlier this June. I stayed with Maria for a week and a day and she showed me parts of Germany many visitors might never see, for which I am grateful. Don’t get me wrong, I like to go to my share of touristy sites, but I much prefer to have a relaxed stay and get a real feel for a country by seeing more of its lesser visited, everyday features.
Most of the time I spent in Germany was in Maria’s hometown, Leverkusen, where the large pharmaceutical company, Bayer has its headquarters. It’s a cute town that nudges up against the Rhine River. The houses which line its streets looked like they popped right out of Harry Potter, or at least to me they did. Everything in Leverkusen is easily accessible by bike or bus or even a long walk, which made getting around a real pleasure.
One of the first activities we did when I arrived was go on a bike tour. I hadn’t been on a bike in years at that point and didn’t think I would have the stamina to finish the tour. To my surprise, it was probably the best bike trip I’d ever been on and inspired me to go on more bike trips in the future. It was relaxed and leisurely so I was able to really see her town and what it had to offer.
Our first stop was Neulandpark. It was a little slice of nature right in the middle of the suburbs. In its forested grounds, you can bike or walk along different dirt paths or check out the wild and farm animals that are housed there. They have adorable porcupines and storks as well as goats, which you can feed, and sheep among other wild and farm animals. It was refreshing to see that a semi-industrial town had a quiet space to get away from it all.
After Neulandpark, we biked to another park, Tierpark Reuschenberg, which once was a Bayer landfill but is now a lush green rolling landscape with artsy structures like a Chinese-style gazebo and a Dutch windmill. Then we made our way to the Rhine River walk where you can see the Bayer factory in the distance. Part of the walkway was under water due to the remnants of heavy flooding in more northern areas. The area seemed like a nice place for a picnic or lying out in the grass with a good book, soaking up some sun.
In addition to Leverkusen’s parks, Maria showed me around Kleingartenverein Feierabend, where we had a BBQ at her family’s garden house. Kleingartenverein Feierabend is a collection of gardens which are owned by families in the area. Since many people live in apartments there often isn’t any room for a garden and so this area serves to fulfill that need. I’ve seen plenty of community gardens, but this place is not quite the same as each garden is separated from the others and is accompanied by a cute little house, which is used mainly for entertainment purposes, not for sleeping. It’s a cool concept and it was a delight to see all the amazing gardens.
In Leverkusen, I of course also went shopping and even stopped in TKMaxx, the European TJMaxx, and found two amazing pairs of shoes. TJMaxx always delivers, even in Europe. Woohoo. Maria also took me to one of her Zumba classes, which is the first time I tried it. At first I couldn’t figure out the steps until half-way through each song but it got easier as the hour went on. It was a lot of fun and the music was great. I’d definitely like to try it again.
Nearby Leverkusen is Soligen, which is a small town in the county which is home to a medieval castle called Scholß Burg. Here, we walked through the castle’s grounds and its rooms, which now are museum exhibits. The first room we entered was the jail, which was quite dark and didn’t have much in it. Then we noticed a few other rooms were closed off and so we thought there might not be much to see. To our surprise, the museum was actually a good size. In order to see every room, you had to climb through the whole castle so it really felt like we were covering a lot of ground. The museum featured exhibits about the how people once lived there as well as the history of the castle and the general area. My favorite part was the view of the surrounding area you see when you make it to the top of the castle. To me there’s just something astounding about seeing a landscape view; I can’t quite put my finger on it.
As we walked away from the castle, we decided to go on the little ski-lift ride that took you from the top to bottom of the town. Neither of us had been on one before, so it was a fun experience. We opted for the one-way ticket since we don’t mind walking. But what we didn’t realize was that the walk was like a mile or so away from where we started. It always sucks when you think a walk’s gonna end and then it doesn’t.
Once we finally got back to the top of the town, we naturally went for waffles on a cute little hillside café. I ordered a cinnamon-sugar waffle, which came piled with a whipped cream, and hot chocolate, which arrived in its own little teapot. Adorable! A perfect waffle meal.
One of the last places Maria took me to during my stay was Cologne, or Köln in German. It’s a lovely, lively city that is just the right size, not too big, not too small. The bridge to the main part of Cologne features a long fence which is covered with love locks set in place by couples over the last few years. I thought it made an otherwise ordinary bridge something special.
Once we made it to the other side, we stopped at Cologne’s famous cathedral which was architecturally stunning and had beautiful stained glass. After, we made our way through the city to discover all Roman ruins lying around from towers to wall fragments. It’s cool how the ruins are incorporated into the surrounding architecture so it’s easy to happen upon it them.
We also went shopping here, where I bought perhaps more than I should have but what’s new. We also had a traditional German meal at one of Cologne’s most well known beer houses. It was delicious and super filling and the beer was a nice way to wash it all down.
After lunch we reached what became my very favorite stop, the chocolate museum. It was glorious. The museum itself was laid out nicely and wasn’t too large. It started with the history of chocolate and where it’s currently produced, which I was happy to see included quite a bit of information about the social issues behind it. Then came exhibits about chocolate production itself and led into the production room, which was the best. We got to see how the chocolate was turned from its liquid stage into bars, molds, and truffles. We even got to taste the rich, silky Lindt chocolate sauce and the server even give us extra chocolate dipped wafers. It was so so good. Mmm. I don’t think I’ve tasted chocolate so creamy.
At the factory you can make your own custom Lindt chocolate bar so we naturally jumped at the opportunity. I got a milk chocolate one made with chopped hazelnuts, coco nibs, marshmallows, and rice crisps. Yum! And it wasn’t too expensive, just 4.50 Euros.
After we pulled ourselves away from the production room and out of the museum we headed for the gift shop which of course was pretty much only filled chocolate. There was seriously every kind of chocolate imaginable from all the best German brands. There was chocolate pizza, chocolate beer, chocolate liquor, various hot chocolate flavors, molded chocolate, chocolate sticks, and tons of chocolate bars. It was heaven. I spent more than I ever have on chocolate, almost 30 Euros. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that but then again, who knows if I’ll ever come back to the chocolate museum. Plus, chocolate is always worth it.
Overall, I had a wonderful time in Germany, discovering Leverkusen, Soligen, and Cologne and can’t wait to come back sometime in the future! : )
Matea Dušić is 27 years old and lives in Rovinj on the west coast of Istria, a penninsula in Croatia. She currently works as a teacher of Italian language in an elementary school and teaches children from 8 to 14 years of age. She graduated in Zadar as teacher of English and Italian language and literature, and therefore also teaches English in a private language school. In her free time, she likes to go on walks, go swimming in the summer, listen to music, and read good books. Her favorite place to go on a walk or a swim is the forest park, Punta Corrente in Rovinj, where she has been enjoying its clean sea and beaches since she was a kid.
Matea in Mali Losinj
1. What is your favorite place to visit in Croatia, and why?
My favorite place to visit in Croatia is Plitvice Lakes National Park. There are still a lot of places I haven’t visited yet, so this is my favorite for now. It has 16 beautiful lakes and rich vegetation. I love going in the spring because it is gorgeous to walk along the lakes, admire the falls and enjoy the wilderness. In the summer time there are a lot of tourists so to me it’s not as nice, but still worth the trip.
2. What places or sites would you recommend to a tourist visiting Croatia, and why?
I would definitely recommend Plitvice Lakes since they are my favorite. Also, the region of Gorski Kotar offers a lot of activities for those who like hiking or like to be in touch with nature. The whole region of Istria is very specific because it offers so many different things in different areas. On the coast you can enjoy the sun and the sea, eat excellent fish and drink high quality white wine. In the inlands, you can taste some famous Istrian specialties, like pršut, sausages, cabbage, maneštra (a type of soup), local pasta and meat specialties. Everything is home-made, and accompanied by excellent red wine. Croatia has a lot of things to offer, it all depends on what you’re in to.
3. Do you have any favorite Croatian writers, poets, artists, actors, or musicians? If so, who are they and what are some of their notable works (or works of theirs you admire)?
I haven’t read many Croatian literary works so I cannot recommend any authors or any good books, since I like to read books in English to practice it a bit more. From musicians, I like Oliver Dragojević, Toni Cetinski, and Hari Rončević. In the last couple of years, a type of singing called klape has become very popular and I enjoy listening to them too.
4. Which Croatian people have you come to admire in your life (political, artistic, familial or otherwise)?
I don’t like politicians very much, especially not the ones leading our country. The people in Croatia that I admire are all the hard-working people, especially those who in the last years have struggled to keep their jobs and feed their families in spite of the fact that the government doesn’t care much for them. What I admire the most is that we are always ready to help people in need, especially when a child needs an operation accessible only in America. While the government is dealing with paperwork about whether the child has the right for treatment in a different country, treatment that will possibly save his/her life, the people in Croatia raise the money so that the parents can privately go and help their child. That is what I admire the most – giving even when they don’t have enough.
5. What changes do you hope to see made in Croatia?
I hope that there will be more work for young people in Croatia because it doesn’t look very positive now. There are a lot of people with higher education that cannot find a job or have to work as a waiter because that is all they can find, and only for the summer time. I hope that the government won’t lie to people anymore, steal from them and will try to make their life better. I hope that finally our paychecks will increase and the costs of living will lower. I hope that there will be more middle class people, and not only those extremely rich and extremely poor.
6. Where do you see the country in 10 years?
I can be very pessimistic or optimistic about this. But let me try be realistic. We are entering the EU in about 2 weeks. I am hoping the prices won’t go sky-high and that it will be really better for us all. But it really depends on the EU itself because they are not in a good place right now, which makes our destiny even more uncertain. So I don’t know – an honest answer.
7. If you could tell someone just one thing about Croatia, what would you want to tell them?
You have to come and discover by yourself all that the people in this country have to offer. You will be amazed!
8. What is your favorite country dish or food?
I love pršut, Istrain pasta and fish. These are my favorites and especially if they are home-made, you just cannot stop eating them!
9. What do you love about Croatia?
Since I live on the sea, I have to say that I adore the sea and the nature around it. What I also like are the people who are very friendly and ready to help. Sometimes you will find people who are not like that and can be quite different, but in general the people in Croatia are open and friendly. Unfortunately, there are still some areas where people are quite conservative and narrow-minded when it comes to some modern topics, like gay rights.
10. What is your favorite Croatian saying or expression?
I don’t have a favorite saying, but what I like about Croatia is it’s different dialects. It amazes me how we can have such different words in different areas of Croatia, so much so that a person from Istria and one from Zagorje cannot understand each other when speaking in their dialects or local language.
11. How did you begin working as a tour guide?/What influenced you to begin working as a tour guide?
I wanted to try something new, and I wanted to make use of my knowledge of languages and practice them a bit more. I went to a course and then started working for a tourist agency from Rabac. The following year I worked for an agency from Poreč and I traveled a bit more, which was exciting. I love meeting new people and talking to them, although it can get difficult to satisfy everybody.
12. What is the most unusual thing a tourist has asked you during a tour?
The most unusual thing was when a tourist from England woke me up at 6 am to find the number of his doctor and hospital in England to call her because he was sure that his wife will put him in a hospital as soon as they come back home since he was schizophrenic and she wanted to put him on medication. I couldn’t believe that situation and even today it amazes me.
13. Can you share any fun facts with us about Croatia that you have learned being a tour guide?
I learned that the stones in the old town of Rovinj had a purpose when it was a fisherman town. All the stones are horizontal and there are only two lines that go vertically up the street called Grisia. These stone lines were used by the men when they came back home after all day at sea. Since the only thing that they were drinking was white wine and water (called bevanda) they were a little drunk when they came back, so these lines were used to find there home – something to follow.
14. What would be your ideal tour to give in Croatia?
My ideal tour would be with a group of 8 to 10 visitors. This number is the best because you can explain everything to the visitors and dedicate yourself to them and discover their interests, and therefore adjust your guiding to what they want to know. There are many places to visit in Croatia, so I would probably concentrate on the northern part of the Adriatic since it fascinates me the most.
We would start with the visit around Rovinj and Pula, then continue to a small village in the central part of Istria so the visitors can see different areas of this region, as well as to taste some of the specialties. We would spend the night in Opatija, and the next morning do some sightseeing of this town. Afterwards we would go to the island of Krk, visit its most known places and of course taste the wine. The second night would also be spent on the island.
The third day would be reserved for two more island – Cres and Lošinj, not just visiting the centers but also some local places of interest like the Beli reservation of birds, especially griffons on the island of Cres, and the reservations of dolphins on the island of Lošinj. If we take this tour during the summer months, I would also organize a day on the sea so that the visitors can enjoy our beautiful clear water. After that we would visit Zadar and spend probably two days there, and finish the tour with Croatia’s most famous national park, Plitvice Lakes, because I believe they must be seen.
On the way back, I would also want the visitors to see the Museum of Nikola Tesla, so they can get to know some famous Croatian people. The whole trip would last for approximately 8 days and we would use a small van, of course with air conditioning. If possible, I would find local restaurants for lunch or dinner so that the tourists could really taste and experience Croatia.
15. What is the best memory you’ve had working as a tour guide?
My best memories are all the places I have been able to see, and even though that hasn’t been many, I have still enjoyed all my travels thus far. What I also liked was meeting and talking to a lot of different people, hearing their stories, thoughts of Croatia and even encouragements about my future work. I got to practice my English, experience new things, worry about whether everybody was ok and feeling happy when they got back to the hotel safe and sound, and most importantly hearing that everyone was so pleased. That was the best reward.
If I were to make a list of my favorite world cities, Amsterdam would probably be right near the top of it. I’ve been to the city’s airport on my way to Croatia more times than I can count, but until last week I had never walked its streets.
As most cities, Amsterdam is full of people and endless amusements. Yet even with a population of 820,654, Amsterdam achieves what many other cities can’t—it keeps up a busy appearance but underneath stays calm, cool, collected. You’ll see people at all hours of the day and shops open late into the night but everything goes at a steady pace, no hustle-and-bustle needed. Moreover, while Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination (I saw and heard plenty of foreign visitors), tourists didn’t stick out here. Everyone blended together and became one with the city life, as if Amsterdam was home to each of us, even if just for a little while.
I traveled to Amsterdam via rail with my good friend, Maria, who I was visiting in Germany, as well as one of her hometown friends. We only stayed in Amsterdam for a night and two days, but it felt like we were there for so much longer as we were able to see and experience most of what the city had to offer during our short stay. Looking at a map, I can firmly saw that we walked the entire central portion of the city in just two days. Now this might seem like a lot, as if it was a rushed visit, but on the contrary it wasn’t like that at all. We walked a lot, yes, but it was a leisurely stroll through the city, where we hopped in and out of Amsterdam’s chic boutiques and did the customary stops in local cafes, as no European visit is ever complete with a coffee stop or two.
We walked along Amsterdam’s famous shopping street, Kalverstraat, which is packed with all the best European stores. While, C&A, H&M, Mango, and Zara are always on my must-go list, I also discovered the glory that is HEMA. For US natives, it’s like the Dutch version of Target. I wouldn’t necessarily go there for the clothes; go instead for the baking supplies, snacks, and makeup. The store offers a selection of cake/cupcake toppings along with mini packets of fondant and marzipan, each for under four Euros. HEMA also has some great store-brand snacks, which I snagged on my way to the register. Their muesli biscuits are tasty pre- and post- meal treats as are their cheese balls, which are filled with Ritz-like cheese. Yum! And while I didn’t end up buying any makeup since I already have a ridiculous amount I don’t even use, HEMA had a fairly large variety to choose from with products at very affordable prices.
In addition to shopping, we walked to the farmer’s market and the flower market. I was impressed by how large the farmer’s market was. We didn’t manage to make it all the way down its street, but we did walk a good portion of it. There, you can find cheap eats, less costly cheese than in the city’s cheese shops, nut and chocolate stands, freshly baked bread, inexpensive clothes, shoes, and jewelry, and wigs, if you need them.
Much like the main market, the flower market offers an equally impressive selection. You can find almost any type of flower imaginable there. All stalls had the traditional Dutch tulip bulbs (some even packaged in a cute little wooden shoe) and a wide variety of seeds to choose from. Other stalls even offered exotic flower varieties that I hadn’t even seen or heard of in my life.
On the last day of our stay, inspired by all the boats we saw on the water, we opted for a boat ride instead of a walk. We rented a paddle-boat near Anne Frank’s house and rode around for an hour through the city’s canals. This was probably one of my favorite parts of our trip. It was nice to experience Amsterdam from a different perspective and see all the cute houseboats docked along the sides of the canals. Also, I loved watching the city’s residents go by in their boats packed with friends laughing, drinking, and eating together.
Another site I loved in Amsterdam was seeing all the cyclists! The city is so bike-friendly that there’s even a separate street for them between the main road and sidewalk. Biking is by far the best way to get around the city, and I would recommend renting a bike if you plan to visit. Along with the cyclists, it was also a pleasure to see families and friends eating outside their apartments right on the city’s sidewalks.
And of course, a trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Red Light District. We actually stumbled upon it in the afternoon on our way back from an Indian restaurant in the city’s Chinatown. During the day, the Red Light District just seems like a normal street, except for the occasional half-naked woman in a window. We decided that we had to experience the area at night as well since that’s really when it comes to life.
Around 9:00 pm, we headed out again to the Red Light District. It was just beginning to fill up with people, both men and women alike. Many of its bars were already quite full, and the district’s sex theaters had begun their nightly entertainment. Red-lit shop windows on the main street and alleys were up-and-running with women clothed in flashy, barely there lingerie, enticing men to enter. The writer in me really wanted to sit down with one of them and ask loads of questions about their choice of profession and way of life. I didn’t get the chance to this time but maybe one day I will.
I was actually surprised by how small Amsterdam’s Red Light District was. It’s talked about around the world but to me didn’t really live up to all the hype. It was intriguing, yes, but after a couple blocks, it ended and so all we could do was move on. I had hoped there would have been at least some kind of chic nightclub or something, but it was mainly some windows of women, about five or six sex theaters, a few bars, and some sex shops. I’m glad I went and I think it’s a must-see as there aren’t many other cities with such districts, but I wouldn’t consider it one of my most favorite stops.
Overall, I was extremely delighted with my little trip. To put it succinctly: Amsterdam is awesome. It’s fun but also has pockets of tranquility. It’s a city you are welcome to feel at ease in and I hope to visit Amsterdam again in the future.
1. There is a constant stream of desserts that appear in your house courtesy of your relatives.
2. You eat the aforementioned dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, even after you’re stuffed.
3. You hear roosters crowing, cows mooing, and pigs snorting at all hours of the day.
4. You see big, red tractors driving on the main road (the one main road, might I add) alongside semis and sedans.
5. Your neighbor’s ducks (or turkeys or geese or chickens) waddle in a neat little line into your lawn, quack-quacking the whole time to one another as if in deep, meaningful conversation (and who knows, perhaps they are solving world hunger and the economic crisis).
6. The rolling hills and lush greenery confirm that you are now in the fairytale land of your childhood storybooks.
7. You hear words like hiža, race, zahod, spominati, brbljanje, and paradajz all the time and eventually fall in love with the local country dialect. (Word translations: house, ducks, bathroom, to talk, chatting, tomato)
8. You receive a pile (and I mean a real, hulking pile) of food on your plate—at a local restaurant or at your grandma’s—that, in any other place on Earth would be reserved for three people to share, but is in fact specifically and unequivocally just for you (and remember, you have to eat it all—no ifs, ands, or buts about it otherwise you risk upsetting your host).
9. You have encountered a true, village cat—the one that looks like it has eaten five city cats. It’s not fat, it’s just dinosaur huge.
10. Hospitality reaches its most prestigious level—you are automatically welcomed into any home as part of the family and then you never want to leave.
Being in Rovinj for a year has taught me a lot—how to be a better teacher, how to handle stressful situations, and how to relax. I’ve learned from my students, but also from Rovinj itself along with its lovely & interesting inhabitants. Below, I’ve compiled a short & sweet list of the lessons I’ve learned during my stay in one of Croatia’s most beautiful coastal towns.
1. The beginning is always hard. Get through it and you’ll feel like you can conquer the world.
2. Let go—let things roll off your back because your energy is better spent elsewhere.
3. Get a little crazy/go outside your comfort zone. There’s a whole lotta crazy in Rovinj & I assure you that there’s almost nothing the town’s citizens haven’t seen.
4. Take the time to sit down for coffee & catch up with friends. As many of my friends often told me, “There’s always time for coffee.” While I’m not much of a coffee person, now I’m always up for sitting down for a while and sipping on some hot chocolate. This may seem like a silly lesson, but really it’s not because it’s code for: stop-and-enjoy-your-life-right-now.
5. Eat chocolate & cake of any amount at any time of the day because it’s not “real food” anyways. Unlike number four, this lesson is actually meant to be just a bit silly and I credit my friend Tonci for it. I’ve never regretted a single dessert since.
6. Be exactly who you are and you’ll find that the those who matter will like you regardless. From stress-induced rants to my cat and scarf obsessions, my Rovinj friends still found it in their hearts to love me anyways. :)
As a teacher, you’re expected to throw out knowledge in a structured, coherent manner so that it can be absorbed by your (usually less than eager/very tired) students. And while they are learning what you’re throwing at them as best as they can, something extraordinary is taking place in the peripheral: you too are being taught, learning from your learners. So as homage to my students, here are the top six things I learned from them this year.
Me & my teenagers
1. Keep trying and doing and remember to think outside the box. When something you do doesn’t work, try a million and one other things until you find something that’ll get you the necessary results. Teaching is all about trail & error, and perhaps that’s what makes is constantly new & exciting and on the other hand, tiring.
2. Know when to be serious and when to be relaxed and even a little silly. A difficult balance to figure out, but definitely something I really needed to discover.
3. Be endlessly adaptable & flexible. Every person has different needs, desires, and life circumstances so how you handle yourself and approach them will vary, therefore flexibility and adaptability are key skills to develop and maintain.
Me & my Technical English students
4. Listen well & you’ll see when an opportunity will open for you to provide the world with something only you can offer. My teenage students were very interested in U.S. life and when I said they should study abroad there, many of them were in awe that it could be possible in their high school years. And so, I set out to provide them with resources to make their fantasies hopefully become a future reality by e-mailing programs, compiling website listings, and answering what questions I could for them. My efforts were met with much gratitude and more than that, I was able to inspire some of them to dream bigger than they had previously thought possible. How cool is that? And all a result of active listening & being able to see and take advantage opportunities to help and do good.
5. Don’t give up on anyone. Even if a student doesn’t turn in homework on time or complete some assignment, figure out a solution together and be supportive. This can of course be applied to other situations as well.
6. Smile. A lot. It automatically makes the day better, and the world a bit (or even a whole lot) brighter.
My perfect Rovinj weekend turned into a less-than-perfect last week, mainly because I had a ton of work to do for all my different jobs on top of packing up the apartment and running errands. Each night I only got around three to five hours of sleep, going to bed around two or three in the morning and waking up at six or seven a few hours later. Some days I worked almost the entire day, taking just a couple hours break. By Friday, my departure day, I was cranky, exhausted, and thinking in slow-mo.
I desperately wanted my last week to be filled with friends and good times just like the weekend, but I knew as soon as Monday rolled around that sadly wouldn’t be a possibility. I’m glad I had that weekend though, otherwise I don’t think I would’ve been able to reach the closure I needed before I left.
While the week as a whole was not near ideal, there were still quite a few sparkling moments that I wouldn’t have traded for anything. First off, I had my last week of classes, which consisted of my remaining business English courses. To commemorate our last class together, we went out for coffee/drinks and got to chat about non-English related topics. It was nice to close out our time together away from the classroom, and I think all my students would agree. I’ll miss them all dearly.
I also got to see some of my Rovinj friends one last time. A few of them came over for an American pancake dinner on one of my busiest days, giving me a nice break from staring at the computer screen. I tried out a new and very delicious pancake recipe along with a vegan one. Never made vegan pancakes before but I must say, OH MY WORD THEY WERE GOOD! Good is an understatement, amazingly scrumptious is more like it. I think they are my new favorites—yummy & easy to make. Plus, they cooked beautifully—round & crusty every time. Veg for the win.
I closed out my week with a hot chocolate at one of my favorite café-bars, Cinema and a walk around the town center on Thursday. I also grabbed some Surf n’ Fries, which I stumbled on randomly after wishing for their reappearance in Rovinj, for me and Stephanie. Then on Friday, after a crazy morning (but what’s new in Rovinj?) Tonci treated me to a much needed walnut ice cream cup (my first in Rovinj!) at one of our favorite places to grab ice cream along the riva or waterfront. And then it came time to lug all my bags (somehow I managed to amass a ridiculous amount of stuff in a year) to the bus station in Stephanie’s new car (yay!) and say goodbye.
I was so exhausted by the time I reached the bus station that it almost didn’t feel like a proper goodbye to my friends and to Rovinj. It felt other-worldly and as if it was just a “I’ll-see-you-next week” type of parting. What’s more, after hugging my friends and settling in on the bus, I felt a sudden rush of relief. Relief because I was finally sitting still, not having to tackle a massive to-do list or dread waking up the next morning. Yet, once the bus started rolling away, past the old yellow tobacco factory, past Mario’s pizzeria where the owner knew us by name, past the police station where it took frustratingly long to get administrative work done, past Mini Croatia which is still on my “places to go list,” past the resident strip club, Bada-Bing, which looks, as I suppose most strip clubs do, seedy and run-down, and past the point where you can no longer see Rovinj’s landmark, St. Euphemia church, in the distance, I finally got sad, wanting to claw at the window and break free, to run back to the place that I didn’t want to leave.
But, I know I’ll be back. I have to come back. It feels like I was able to start another life in Rovinj, not just write in another chapter and so it still hasn’t really fully hit me that I’ve said goodbye. Because to me, it’s not goodbye for good. It can’t be. I won’t accept that.
Now, I’m back in Zagorje, nestled in a blanket and feeding my already stuffed belly with cheese strudel, and all I think, as I’m listening to chirping crickets outside and a ridiculous Croatian sitcom in the next room, is I’ll be back. Mark my words people: Sprinkles will be back, and don’t you forget it. : )
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I first arrived in Rovinj. When it all started, I thought it might never end since the beginning of the school year was so tremendously stressful and jam-packed. Yet, as I reached and passed the half-way point in January, everything started to look way up. New travels were planned, new friends appeared, new adventures were undertaken, and new experiences unfolded. I also decided to push myself to break away from my previously perfection-oriented, high strung life perspective in favor of a more reasonable, manageable, and fun-centered one. With all these new additions to my year, life in Rovinj has become more than I ever imagined it could—something damn close to perfection, and what’s more, it has become home.
On Friday, I will be leaving Rovinj behind, kicking and screaming I’m sure (in my head, that is). I’m stunned by how quickly time has passed and amazed at how far I’ve come in just less than a year. Truly, it’s been an experience of a lifetime, and one I will certainly never forget.
My departure will be bittersweet. I’m excited to see Michigan family & friends again and re-experience my original homeland, but I’m also terribly sad to leave this new home that’s welcomed me with such generous, loving, and open arms.
My last week in Rovinj began with a spectacular weekend filled with friends and good times. It kicked off last Friday with a surprise present from my friend Tonci, who bought me tickets to the Avantgarde Jazz Festival concert featuring legendary Otis Taylor. The concert was phenomenal. I really like jazz and blues, especially live (you just can’t beat that), and Otis Taylor was a happy mix of both with a little country twang slipped into a couple of songs. He’s a fantastic musician and stage performer and his band mates are equally incredible. After the concert, Stephanie and I headed to the after party at the restaurant, Kantinon, where we had our fill of Istrian wine and traditional food.
Then, Saturday I just got to be lazy since the weather wasn’t quite so good. Stephanie, Tonci, and I had a little American-style brunch with French toast and pancakes of all flavors from sprinkles to cinnamon to chocolate chip. Steph made the toast while I prepared the pancakes. The winning flavor of the afternoon? The gooey chocolate chip pancakes, naturally.
To round out the already wonderful week, in steps Sunday, poised and ready to be a great day. And wouldn’t you know it, Sunday completely delivered. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to my weekend. The weather was wonderful—sunny, and with a refreshing wind. And I did absolutely no work, just enjoyed the day out-and-about Rovinj. First, Stephanie and I met Tonci for some morning coffee (hot chocolate for me) at our usual café-bar, Cinema, which is located right by the water and is the perfect people-watching spot. We were there for, I wanna say, two or three hours, each of us ordering another round of drinks mid-way through. We chatted, laughed, and played Briscola.
Afterwards, we spent most of the afternoon walking around Rovinj’s Old Town, where I stopped to buy some jewelry from an artist’s gallery and truffled goodies for family. While I was busy admiring some rings, Stephanie and Tonci happened upon a candy bar where we ended up spending just a little too much. But was it worth it? Oh yes. We ate our fill while lying out in the sun on seaside rocks below St. Euphemia Church.
Later in the day, Stephanie and I grabbed a dinner at Rovinj’s newest restaurant, La Concha, a Mexican & Tex-Mex themed eatery. They seriously have the most amazing soups ever. I can still imagine the taste of the corn soup I ordered as if I am eating it right now. With the soup, I also got a delicious vegetarian enchilada which was so, so big and still came with beans and rice on the side. I really wanted to try their chili-spiced ice cream but I was completely stuffed. Uff. It was so much food, but oh so good. Once we made our way home at night, our “Rovinj family” joined us for a lovely little Bon Voyage party, where we toasted and talked and laughed all together for the last time before my departure.
All-in-all, my last weekend in Rovinj was total bliss. I couldn’t have asked for anything more or a better group of people to spend it with.
There are many, many things I love about Croatia from the strum of a tamburica ringing through a folk song to a flaky-sweet Zagorjski strudel melting in my mouth. It seems like I find something more to love about Croatia every day I’m here. The list is truly endless.
And now, I have two new items to add to this “list.” The first is that I’ve decided that Croatia is one of the most amazing countries ever. I love Croatia’s history; it continually intrigues me as it’s filled with both terrifying and wonderful stories. Moreover, the country’s culture and traditions are beautifully rich and packed with life and energy. Plus, it seems that Croatia’s got it all in just a small area—clean, gorgeous beaches, mysterious underground caves and underwater shipwrecks, a lean, green countryside, hoppin’ cities and port towns, historic Roman ruins and old towns, quaint villages, picturesque mountains, stunning waterfalls, and postcard-pretty islands. Two words: just amazing.
The second new item on my list is my realization that Croatia is the ideal country-hopping hub. Flights are fairly cheap from Croatia to other European countries and you can easily take a car or bus from Croatia to neighboring Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Hungary. Being in Croatia reminds you that you can be a world traveler on the cheap. Thank you, Croatia, for being kick-ass awesome.
So what is this long introduction a prelude to? My two afternoons that speak to the new items on my “Croatia-is-amazing” list.
A few weeks ago my cousin, Romana came for a little weekend visit and we got ourselves a tour of Brijuni (old spelling—Brioni) National Park booked via K&K Travel Agency. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Brijuni before coming to Istria. For those souls unfamiliar with this natural marvel as I once was, Brijuni is an archipelago of 19 islands and its largest island, Veliki Brijun, was Josip Broz Tito’s summer residence for 32 years. In 1983, Brijuni was turned into a national park. Today, you can grab a room at one of the main island’s hotels, rent a villa, or just come for a day trip like we did.
My cousin and I spent the whole afternoon in Brijuni and it was utterly fantastic. I really hope to come back one day and stay for a couple days and write. In a past post I raved that Draguć is a perfect place to get some writing done and now I gotta add Brijuni to that list too. It’s so peaceful and you’re completely surrounded by nature. It’s a breath of fresh air, literally.
While we were there, we went on a little train tour around the entire main island, stopping at the Safari Park, home to animals, from donkeys to zebras, that Tito received as gifts from world leaders. We later broke away from the tour accidentally, but it was totally fine because we got to go at our own pace. We visited Tito’s Museum, which houses old photographs of Tito with world leaders and celebrities, as well as a small taxidermy museum next door featuring all of his past animals.
We continued with our walk and sat for a lunch at some out-of-use geographical research thing-a-ma-bob. Not exactly sure what it was, but let’s just call it an abandoned space shuttle ‘cause that’s what it looks like.
After a little sandwich lunch, we stumbled into the newest edition to the national park, a Mediterranean garden, which was small, yet charming. Then we headed to the coast to take in some salty sea air before we headed back to the mainland in Fažana.
Another delightful afternoon I had a couple weeks ago included a little day-trip to Trieste to visit a friend. The two big sites we were visited were the Miramar Castle and the main square Piazza Unita de’Italia, both were gorgeous.
The Miramar Castle overlooks the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. It has lovely grounds covered in gardens, giving the air a rather refreshing quality.
The Piazza Unita de’Italia is host to Trieste’s city hall and is a frequent venue for summertime concerts.
Though our Trieste trip did not last long, I really enjoyed exploring the city’s architecturally stunning streets and eating some traditional Italian gelato. Yum!
At the end of June I’m set to leave Croatia behind. I will happily be taking all of my travel memories with me but sad to leave such wonderful opportunities behind. Croatia, I promise I will be back.
I woke up last Wednesday with sun lighting the floor of my room. Stepping outside onto my balcony, I breathed in the fresh, salty air—the air of a Croatian summer.
It was a beautiful day, and one that marked the beginning of Rovinj’s summer season. Last Wednesday was also a national holiday, Worker’s Day (the European equivalent of U.S. Labor Day), and pretty much all Croatian employees were free to do as they pleased, many even taking a long holiday by connecting it with the weekend. While I didn’t have this luxury, I was determined to take advantage of my one-day holiday and the summery weather. So what better way to do that than by going to the beach?
Initially Stephanie and I had intended to go to Punta Corrente as BBQs and parties are held in celebration of Worker’s Day along the beach and in the park. But we opted for a more low-key locale and went to Rovinj’s “other side,” located just a bit northwest of the town center. During the summer this side is also filled with tourists, like most of the town, but before the peak season comes into full swing, it’s quiet, serene. Here, we met up with a friend and her husband, laid down our towels and took in some much needed sun.
Rovinj from “the other side”
We played Briscola, ate delicious vegan chocolate cake, and drank some Italian spritz. We alsoall went on our very first swim of the season. May 1st is still considered too early for swimming by most since the water is still quite cold. Yet discomfort had to be pushed aside to celebrate the start of summer with a proper swim.
And wow. It was cold. Oh. So. Cold. I let my legs dangle in the water over the side of the stone pier to get used to the chill. After about five minutes, I started out slow. I went up to my calves, then to my knees. And then I stopped. With each small step forward, the water stung like ice. I shook my head “no” to Stephanie, who was already well into the water, swimming around. Yet I knew I had to go in. In my mind, it marked some rite of passage that would make me a real coastal Croat.
View from the beach
And sure enough, I dove into the water, yelled in mild horror, and then swam until I got some feeling back into my body and found one of those random warm spots in the sea. The initial jump was the worst part, but after you were in, it felt like normal sea water that was just a tad bit colder than usual. I’m glad I took the plunge. I felt a sense of accomplishment, even though the act didn’t mean much beyond me and my friends, but who cares? Sometimes these can be the most meaningful accomplishments.
Once late afternoon rolled around, we called it a day and packed up, then went on a walk to explore the rest of Rovinj’s “other side.”
Rovinj’s most famous building is its church on the hill, St. Euphemia. Yet Rovinj is also home to a far lesser-known landmark, the orthopedic hospital and rehabilitation center, “Primarius Dr. Martin Horvat.” One reason for its lack of attention is that the hospital is not open to the public and it is generally frowned upon to visit the grounds as a tourist. But, seeing as we’re essentially locals we went through the area without a second look from the hospital guard.
The hospital was built by the Austrian government in 1888 and was originally intended to be a children’s treatment center. Following World War I, it was converted into its current purpose, a clinic for orthopedics, and is one of the oldest orthopedic hospitals in Croatia and Europe. The hospital was specially constructed on this particular part of Rovinj because of its special micro-climate that is supposed to aid in recovery.
While the hospital is still in use today, the small buildings once constructed around this health resort, including a cinema, lookout tower, pool, church, and greenhouse, no longer function. These forgotten buildings are all in various states of disrepair. Walking through the area, a feeling of sadness comes over me as I long to see this place in all its glory. Yet, that would surely draw tourists and ruin its eerie charm.
Gothic staircase in the hospital
And no, that wasn’t a typo or ill-fitting word choice. The hospital area is both eerie and charming. It’s closed off from the rest of the world, enveloped in a pine forest and boarded by a secluded sandy beach. As you enter from the beach side, you see the hospital—alive, yes, but with peeling, dirty yellow paint and splintered window frames and shutters. Immediately to its right, there’s the old, unused pool that doesn’t even look like a pool. It’s a hulking piece of grey that has too much concrete and far too little space to showcase the pool itself.
If you zigzag a bit to the right and keep walking for a minute or two up another path you’ll reach the hospital lookout tower. Climb up to the top and catch a glimpse of Rovinj’s old town and the island Figarola.
The hospital tower
As we walked back down to the hospital building, we passed the old cinema (now used as a gym), whose gothic veneer gave us all the chills.
The old cinema
Right next door is the Church of St. Pelag, also abandoned. It’s architecturally beautiful, despite its unkempt nature. Inside, you’ll find that it’s being used as storage space. Old documents, binders, and books, some even dating back to the 1930s, crowd the building.
The Church of St. Pelag
Inside the Church of St. Pelag
Upon leaving the grounds, we all agreed that the hospital would be the perfect horror movie set. While I’d love to see the buildings repaired, repainted, and revitalized, I like them this way. It gives the place a sense of struggle, of loss even, which, like any good writer will say, builds character.
I’ve lived in Rovinj for almost a full year now and I’ve seen its many sides from its crowded summer to its lonely winter and all the craziness in-between. Many picture Rovinj as an idyllic, romantic coastal town and while this is true, the town is so much more. Rovinj is complex, layered with history, with culture, and with many stories—both remembered and forgotten.
Creative, open-minded, and overly-analytical are three words that most accurately describe Marija Durakovich, which she attributes to her Croatian upbringing within American culture as well as to her education at the University of Michigan where she cultivated her worldview; and to fresh experiences which she has independently ventured through. She pursued a Master’s Degree in Education, mainly to get qualified to teach in the classroom but, despite her passion for working with kids, decided that there was something better suited for her out there. It is here where the road carved out by discernment for a ‘professional calling’ has unveiled passions that, while perhaps not leading to a single career path, have bolstered her footing in an ocean of possibilities. It is here in Croatia—where she now lives and works after relocating from her hometown of Detroit four years ago—that she has come alive and wishes to build her future.
1. What is your favorite place to visit in Croatia, and why?
My favorite place to visit in Croatia is not a specific town, per say, but any town that bears the following characteristics: quaint, historic, clean, coastal, and authentic. Perhaps a cross between Cavtat, Mali Lošinj and some undiscovered town on Hvar.
2. What places or sites would you recommend to a tourist visiting Croatia, and why?
Here, I’ll refer back to previous question, (Cavtat, Hvar, Mali Lošinj), but place more emphasis on ”undiscovered” as I, myself am in search of these places. This summer I’m headed to Istria which I’ve only caught a glimpse of. Based on what I’ve heard and from whom I’ve heard this, I am confident that Istria will be my newest top recommendation. And I’m making it my mission to find some part of Istria that is yet to be discovered. Oh, and I have a true affinity for the city of Zadar – likely a product of my numerous summers with some of my best girlfriends there, which were loaded with inside jokes and spontaneities.
3. Do you have any favorite Croatian writers, poets, artists, actors, or musicians? If so, who are they and what are some of their notable works (or works of theirs you admire)?
I really enjoy Croatian klapas, especially while spending time on the coast. I’ve been to 4 TBF concerts, the last of which I was determined to catch Mladen for a chat post-concert – and succeeded in this, by the way! Besides the classics like Prljavo Kazalište and Gibonni, I always enjoy Urban (&4), Croatian jazz, and up-and-coming authentic artists who clearly play with their hearts and not for the meager money to be made. I have yet to discover my favorite literary heroes.
Marija hiking up Sljeme (the Medvednica mountain that borders Zagreb)
4. Which Croatian people have you come to admire in your life (political, artistic, familial or otherwise)?
Perhaps a cliché but the true nonetheless: Ante Gotovina. I recently listened (live) to a speech by esteemed scientist Davor Pavuna. Let’s just say that it’s been years since someone’s performance of words moved me so much as did his. As for artistic admirations, I think x4 concert attendances says enough here (TBF); their lyrics are ‘real’, they’re to a great extent pioneers in their genre, and they’re genuine on and off the stage.
5. What changes do you hope to see made in Croatia?
The change I wish to see is peoples’ acceptance andapplication of foreign approaches to those things that most every Croatian admits need to change. Croatians have readily-available knowledge from, for instance, its diaspora which must be taken to its full advantage. However, these fresh ideas are too often suppressed out of a fear of change, losing one’s status, or simply choosing the path of least resistance. The first sub-change which needs to take effect is the belief and promotion of teamwork. It is only when groups think, work and act collectively that change can occur.
6. Where do you see the country in 10 years?
To be honest, I haven’t a clue. But I do know that this (not knowing) is why I am here. There’s a passion for preserving my heritage that is ingrained in me and, quite frankly, in the last four years I’ve felt that this heritage has been threatened. I sincerely hope that younger generations will soon recognize that their passivity is destructive to Croatia’s future. I hope they will realize that their critical thinking requires action. I hope they will realize that without voicing their thoughts, they are actively surrendering not only their microcosmic worlds but something far greater with endless potential. I hope that they will think not only for themselves but for their beloved grandparents and great-grandparents, who likely made incomprehensible sacrifices. More importantly, I hope that they will consider their impact in terms of a future they are creating for their own children and grandchildren. Finally, I hope that they will stop taking a copy+paste approach and start thinking critically, incorporating foreign ideas into their own, synthesizing information versus rotely transplanting it onto foreign soil, thus creating an unsustainable formula. I hope authenticity takes flight!
Marija with her mother at a river park near Samobor. She highly recommends the trout served here.
7. If you could tell someone just one thing about Croatia, what would you want to tell them?
Come, see, explore, absorb but consider its history. That being said, tolerate while at the same time persisting in depositing your knowledge regardless of the resistance to be faced.
8. What is your favorite country dish or food?
Palačinke, što drugo?! Yes, yes, they are really French, but I’d say our bakas have an irreplicable Croatian recipe for them that is hard to beat.
9. What do you love about Croatia?
The thirst for knowledge that people have, despite the rampant resistance to incorporate tried foreign methodologies (quickly enough). There’s a controlled urgency to this regard which I sense around me. For example, I see a plethora of people of my generation unceasingly, and without regard to costs, actively packing up their evenings with learning experiences ranging from learning a 4th language, learning a new craft, or attending public seminars and lectures. In light of a struggling economy and record high unemployment, this “thirst for knowledge” is one significant step in the right direction and one that is contrary to my belief of the apathy epidemic I described earlier. I admit to the inconsistency I am pointing out here – the coexistence of apathy and activism (whilst perhaps only for self-promotion). And it is precisely this polarity that I think can be applied to the state of things in Croatia in general. There exists a culture of thinking here that has taken seat on one of two sides of any spectrum, be it political, religious, or economical. It is my sincere hope that the on-setting “kriza” (or crisis) will bring people together for one, good, long, emotional think-tank in which they’ll weed through the mumbo-jumbo that has staked itself for way too long in every crevice of society. I see this, perhaps on a minute scale, transpiring amongst my friends and family who have integrated their personal beliefs with the beliefs of true experts and a realistic approach to the future of their homeland.
Strossmayerovo Setaliste, which Marija says is the best street with a view of Zagreb during the spring/summer/fall
10. What is your favorite Croatian saying or expression?
Svaka rit dođe na šekret.
(Rough translation: A day comes when every ass comes to justice.)
11. When and why did you decide to move to Croatia?
They say that things come in threes. For me, this was 1. deciding to leave education, 2. deciding to move to Croatia, and 3. deciding to stop spreading myself thinly and zeroing in on my passions. The three epiphanies that lead to these life transitions were the best I ever made because without them I would have “tracked” myself onto a path driven by monotony, tradition, and cultural deprivation. That being said, I can confidently say that my life has become increasingly dynamic, non-traditional, and culturally rich.
I moved to Croatia (from Detroit) 4 years ago and I still get bombarded with equally as many ”Why did you move here?” questions, to which I honestly respond with ”because of my love for Croatia.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my other homeland as well but they don’t say that distance makes the heart grow fonder for just any reason. During these last four years I’ve learned a lot about tolerance, morals, and my patriotic roots. I imagine that amongst those of us “returnees” I’m not alone here.
The question that typically follows is ”Do you want to move back to the US?”. Quite honestly, no. I love the palette of cultural activities Zagreb has to offer – from theaters to film festivals and live music performances. I love walking to work, roller-blading around Bundek park, hiking at Sljeme (which is literally a tram ride away) and playing beach volleyball at Lake Jarun. I love being able to sit outdoors (in all seasons) at a different café every day, if I wish, to read the newspaper and people watch. And finally, I love proximity…. and Zagreb has that too!
Zagreb from Gornji Grad (the upper town)
12. What advice do you have to those looking to either temporarily or permanently move to Croatia?
Aside from my answer to question number 8, I’d add that they should have low expectations, but come with boldness, a job-searching strategy having already established some contacts, and some savings to get them through the rough spots in terms of job-less periods. By NO means should they even consider bribery, which is a small form of corruption that has infiltrated so far into many parts of society that it might quickly and easily seem acceptable to newcomers.
Winter has finally come to an end here in Istria and warm, sunny spring weather has been dominating most of our days now. As the second installment in my Istrian road trip series, last Sunday I spent the day touring Croatia’s Kvarner region with three of my good friends. This was one of the first days we experienced summer-like warmth and all-day sun, which of course made the day all the more perfect.
With our Central Istria trip, we made a point of seeing some of the historical and cultural monuments of the little towns we stopped in. But this time around, since the weather was oh so good, we took our merry time and went on short causal strolls around each town, soaking up the long dormant sun.
Our first stop was the small town Ičići. It’s a beautiful place situated amongst more well-known Kvarner region areas like Lovran and Opatija. During the summer months, I hear that Ičići is a prime tourist destination, and especially notable for its Blue Flag beach. While you might encounter certain crowd pockets in this town during Croatia’s peak season, you can find an easy escape from it all in your rented apartment or home as these are situated a bit outside of the immediate center.
Sea view from Ičići
In Ičići, we walked under a building with a very cool, colorful ceiling in order to reach a café-bar, where everyone grabbed some morning coffee and I got myself a scoop of Snickers-inspired ice cream. While looking out at the sea here, we noticed an interesting phenomenon: random self-perpetuating circles in the water. I wish I had a proper picture of it. We couldn’t figure out how the water just randomly formed into a circle in the middle of the sea. Perhaps there was a natural spring underneath? Who knows. If you have any idea what was happening, please feel free to enlighten me.
It’s summer all over this ceiling
From Ičići, we decided to hop up onto the famous Lungomare, Kvarner’s seaside promenade. It stretches 12 kilometers (7 miles) in length from Preluka to Lovran.
View from the Lungomare
More beauty from the Lungomare
Once on it, we ambled towards Lovran, stopping briefly in Ika, a small town we are told has a fantastic fast food place called Archie. Unfortunately, we did not get to stop in & grab some grub there on this trip but it is on my list of places to go next time around.
Once we reached Lovran, we sat in the sun at an outdoor café and drank some coffee and lemonade. While we didn’t spend a long time in Lovran, I found its architectural landscape captivating, as if you just walked into a classic European movie set.
A beautiful building in Lovran
After Lovran, our stomachs were grumbling and so we made our way back onto the Lungomare towards Ičići. We hopped into our rental car and drove for about 10 minutes to reach the stunning Opatija. I find practically every Croatian town beautiful, but Opatija is well, a fairytale. It’s extremely popular among tourists and was already quite full of them when we arrived. Opatiaj’s architecture is similar to that in Lovran, but buildings are more plentiful and have a more regal quality to them. Plus, the town has yellow-brick sidewalks! You can get a tan, go for a swim, eat some delicious dessert, grab some local goods, AND feel like you’re in The Wizard of Oz. Can you really beat that? One day I’d love to own property here so I can skip along the yellow-brick sidewalks whenever I please.
Opatija’s “Maiden with the Seagull” statue
We actually ended up spending most of our day in Opatija. We situated ourselves on the sea shore and made ourselves a little picnic. After scarfing down some food, we just laid in the sun, enjoying the beautiful day, and then played some poker, placing bets using K-Plus Party Mix Crackers (the BEST mix there is). Naturally, we ended up eating most of our “money” so no one actually knew who won, but that never mattered in the first place.
Soon after, I went for a short walk with two friends, Nadia and Tonči. On the way, we listened to a hippie play bongos for money, were stopped by a friendly, energetic saleswoman selling her illustrator husband’s art work, and entered a jewelry store called Sonora that contained dazzling hand-made pieces, all of which I wanted to buy.
Cute little cat coaster I bought from the sidewalk saleswoman
Before leaving Opatija, we stopped at the hoppin’ Caffe Grand at Hotel Milenij. While Stephanie and Nadia grabbed some more coffee, Tonci and I opted for dessert. He got a cherry fruit cake whose name I have forgotten and I ordered a deliciously creamy walnut cake. My plate was empty in a jiff. I’d love to stop into the shop again, as they also had house-made chocolate bars on sale that looked scrumptious.
My walnut cake
To have a proper meal, we left Opatija and headed for Rijeka, one of my favorite Croatian cities after Zagreb. Anytime Stephanie and I are in Rijeka we must go to Peking Wok, the city’s new Chinese restaurant, and this time was no different. I think they actually have the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten. It’s fresh, not overly salty or oily and is always delicious. I wasn’t too hungry after my cake, so I just ordered vegetable soup with glass noodles and noodles with stir-fry veggies. So, so good. Mmm…I can’t wait to go back!
Just like our last road trip, this one was equally delightful and refreshing. We discovered little bits & pieces of mostly new-to-us Croatian towns and had a relaxing time doing it. What a day!
“Dubrovnik always steals the spotlight, and for good reason. Considered ‘the pearl of the Adriatic,’ the city’s famous historic walls, energizing summer weather, and pristine coastline continually captivate the hearts and imaginations of thousands and thousands of tourists that visit each year.
But what about Croatia’s other walled towns? This time, their magnificence will not be overshadowed by their more popular cousin. Here, we give you Croatia’s other fortified towns in all their glory. Catch the next plane or bus to them and you won’t be sorry, guaranteed.”
Photo credit: CROPIX Agency
Continue reading & discover which Croatian walled towns you need to add to your must-see list!
Usually when I go to a new place I make it a point to learn just a little bit of the country’s language so that I somehow feel more connected to the people and culture. Plus, it’s always a delight to see the smile on a local’s face when you say something in their mother tongue.
The Hagia Sophia
When I was prepping for my trip to Italy last year I borrowed a language MP3 player from the local library and forced my mother to practice with me during our daily walks. She, wanting to just chit-chat, easily got annoyed by my constant exclamations of “e zucchero” and “buon giorno” and “per favore” while I attempted to exercise my extremely limited vocabulary.
By the time I ended up in the pasta capital of the world, I knew only the bare essentials but I was eager to put them to use. Fortunately and unfortunately, my family was with an Italian-speaking family for most of the trip so I never actually got the chance to say anything in Italian. And so now, even though I’m in Rovinj and surrounded by Italian speakers, I can’t remember anything of use.
Steph & I with our Turkish friends
Because of this experience, I didn’t put very much effort into learning Turkish prior to arriving in Istanbul because I figured I would pick up on at least a few words and phrases while visiting since there would be no guide or family friend to help out.
But as frequently happens, my expectations were still somehow much too high and I ended up leaving Turkey with only four words/phrases, none of which I actually used there but all of which I will probably remember forever. So to celebrate the little slice of Turkish knowledge I gained, here is a recap of what I learned:
Hello - merhaba
seagull - martı (pronounced, “martin”)
discount - indirim
My hovercraft is full of eels. - Hoverkraftımın içi müren dolu
Obviously the most useful combination of phrases. But hey, I’m still proud. :)
Oh Istanbul, how I miss you so! Stephanie and I spent about 5 days in Istanbul and it was perfection! On many of my previous trips someplace, I feel like I’ve always had to cram in all the sights, museums, etc. into a short time frame to see everything so I really liked the way Stephanie and I did things this time. We of course saw many of the major sites, but we never rushed and we didn’t cram. We mainly took our time to get up in the morning, then grabbed some Turkish tea/coffee and brunch, and then went on our merry little way, leisurely walking through the city. Our approach was quite refreshing and caused zero anxiety or restlessness so it really was a perfect vacation.
Where we stayed & ate
We stayed in a hostel in Galata and met many interesting and friendly people there. I really loved the area we chose for accommodation because it wasn’t as touristy as the Sultanahmet side of Istanbul or as busy as the Taksim area. Moreover, Galata was quaint, artsy, and much cheaper than the other two areas.
Additionally, Galata had many delicious restaurants to choose from. For dinner and fresh-squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, we usually headed to Star Bufe. Their prices were cheap (5-8 liras per sandwich, around $2.50 to $4) and the food was always fantastically prepared. The wait staff was also wonderful: friendly, attentive, and loved to joke around. Each time we sat down they’d happily greet us with smiles and they always gave us free tea so naturally, we befriended them.
Fresh-squeezed juice & a wrap from Star Bufe
The other two restaurants we frequented in the area are right next to the Galata Tower and unfortunately I cannot remember their names for the life of me. They both served delicious food and were always packed with visitors. We usually went to these two eateries for our breakfasts & brunches as well as for morning Turkish coffee & tea.
Feta cheese & parsley omelet breakfast
We did try a couple restaurants on the Sultanahmet side, one of which was decorated like a country western bar while the others were just your typical traditional Turkish eateries. It seemed like wherever we went the food was always good. You can’t go wrong with food in Istanbul!
Stuffed grape leaves & yogurt-zucchini soup dog dinner
One of my favorite foods to eat though was this bagel-like bread spread with cheese. There were street-cart bread vendors everywhere so it was easy to get and only 2 liras ($1)! What a scrumptious steal!
The best bread in Istanbul
What we saw
As I mentioned previously, Stephanie and I took our pretty little time on this trip so we didn’t manage to get to every single sight on all the “must see places in Istanbul” lists. This was not our loss but rather our gain because by taking the time to actually walk through the city and see some sights, we really got to experience what life was like there.
Since we loved it so much, we ended up going to Cemberlitas Hamami, a Turkish bath spa, twice— once on our first day in Istanbul and the second time on our very last day. A perfect way to open & end a vacation, don’t ya think? For the first time around, we opted for the traditional spa treatment where you are bathed by an attendant and receive a little massage. For the second time, we just did the self-service so that we could lie on the warm flat central stone for as long as we pleased.
My other favorite thing we did in Istanbul was to walk around the Grand Bazaar, which we also went to twice. It’s a feast for the senses—so much color, texture, and chitter-chatter. I bought quite a bit at the Grand Bazaar including a little Turkish tea set, scarves, and some presents for family. Probably the best thing I purchased was a crown so that I can be a princess any time I want ‘cause who wouldn’t want that? Now that Istanbul is long gone, I occasionally yearn for the shop keeper “Hey Lady” greeting. It always put a smile on my face.
The Grand Bazaar
Me & my pretty new crown
We also stopped by the Spice Market. It was much smaller than the Grand Bazaar, and I noticed that these shop keepers were not as vocal as those in the Bazaar and they also weren’t as willing to bargain. Here I just bought some apple tea and spices and Turkish delight candy as presents.
In addition to the bath spa and markets, we visited the Blue Mosque, the Archeological Museum, and Topkapi Palace. I’d never been in a mosque before so the Blue Mosque was quite a treat. It’s beautiful both inside and out, but not as blue as I had initially thought but no biggie.
The Blue Mosque
The Archeological Museum was very interesting and was stocked with a wide assortment of tools, pottery, mosaics, mummies, sarcophagi, paintings, and weapons. I think archeological museums are my favorite type of museum, mainly because you can usually snag a touch of some ancient items. I mean come on, if there’s a 4th century BC sarcophagus in front of you, don’t you just want to glide you hands over its intricate design? How could you resist?
the Archeological Museum
Like the Archeological Museum, the Topkapi Palace had a ton of art and weaponry on display in addition to traditional dress and even royal clocks. I was surprised by how many people were visiting the Palace when we were there. It was completely packed in some areas, but still a worthwhile visit.
Then one day, we had intended to go to the Basilica Cistern, but ended up on a 10 lira ($5) Bosporus boat tour instead. It was nice to see all of Istanbul, both the European & Asian sides in addition to some palaces, political buildings, and the Maiden Tower, but I’d suggest saving a boat tour for a warm day. It was an impulse purchase on a cold, rainy Thursday afternoon and so it was absolutely freezing on the boat. While we passed by some pretty things all I kept thinking was, “Get me to shore. Get me to shore.” I don’t regret going, but now I know not to get on a boat on a chilly day.
View from the boat tour
Until next time, Istanbul
I can’t say enough how fantastic the trip was. I loved it so so much. I’d really like to come back to Istanbul one day, maybe even own property there, who knows. It’s truly a fascinating city filled with life and beautiful culture, history, and tradition.
“Without question, Croatia has enough intriguing characters, allusion-worthy history, cacophonous city streets, and village secrets to fill hundreds of thousands of pages. The country has been inspiring many writers, both native and foreign alike, for years. They include Dante Alighieri, Josip Novakovich, Rebecca West, and Antun Soljan. Come and join their ranks – pack up a suitcase and a laptop, or that dog-eared journal, and read up on the best places to be a writer in Croatia.”
Find out about Croatia’s writer-friendly hot spots & get your writing on!
It’s the busy season for me—filled with school work, new work, and lots and lots of writing. It’s great and my time is made all the more fantastic by my wonderful group of friends.
I remember when I first came to Rovinj. I was excited, nervous, too serious for my own good, a total control freak, and filled with expectations about what my experience here would be like. During the first half of my stay here, these expectations were completely shattered. I was a strange mixture of shocked, sad, homesick, frustrated, and just plain exhausted. While I thought it would never end, I hoped deep down that it would all turn around. And thankfully, it did.
Enter 2013 and things were lookin’ real up. I have learned to embrace the relaxed, “let it roll of your back” Croatian mentality, which has made my life more clear, light, and lovely. Moreover, I have met and befriended some truly wonderful people. When you’ve got great company around, everything else seems to automatically become utterly spectacular. Before, back in 2012, back when I was “old” Kristina, I smiled and laughed, sure, but now I smile so wide it hurts and laugh so hard I need to catch my breath. I never thought day-to-day life could be like this and I sure as hell ain’t turnin’ back.
Some of my lovely Rovinj friends
Now I completely understand when people told me, “Going abroad changes you. You find out who you really are,” and I certainly have. I’ve reconfirmed my passion for writing and all things advocacy, met people who are just like family, and I have truly turned out to be who I feel like I’ve always dreamed of becoming. Looking back on where I was and where I am now, all I can think is, “Wow. Fantastic,” and smile. I’m proud of myself, and true to form I will reward myself with boundless hot chocolate. Moreover, I am endlessly thankful for all the stunning new friends I’ve made. Who’d a thought I’d meet my people all the way in Rovinj? Ya’ll are fantastic & I freakin’ love you.
You just can’t find places this pretty everywhere
I’m really gonna miss this place when I’m gone. Here’s to the next couple months & all the good times just waiting to be etched into history (as well as my spring break trip to Istanbul next week—stay tuned for updates!).
Four of my great Rovinj friends & I set out on a journey through Central Istria to towns many people would never consider visiting unless there’s some sort of festival going on. What follows is brief summary of our beautiful little trip.
Dvigrad—our first stop. It was super foggy when we set out in the morning. We trekked through the medieval city of Dvigrad, which slowly but surely woke us all up. Dvigrad was inhabited up until the plague wiped out most of its citizens. It’s got an interesting history, well-preserved ruins, and is the perfect spot for an afternoon picnic.
Old baker’s oven & the gang
Dvigrad in the fog
Pazin—our second stop. Most of what I had seen of Pazin before our road trip was its grungy bus stop filled with smoking teenagers waiting for their ride home. Not the most ideal image in the world, but I figured we should give it a second chance and I’m glad we did. Though Pazin is considered an industrial town, it has beautiful natural landscape including a river, cascades, and little waterfalls. Additionally, it’s famous for its cave, which inspired Dante when he was writing his Inferno and is apparently what he based his description of hell off of. To me, the cave itself isn’t particularly “hellish” but I can certainly understand the inspiration—ragged cliff rocks and spidery trees hug both sides of the wild riverbed. Pazin also has a really nice castle that has been turned into a museum. My favorite part of the museum? The torture pit. And yes, it’s actually a pit. You gotta climb down a bunch of stairs to get to the little square chamber.
The pit’s cliff rocks
The river & the trees
Down to the torture pit we go at Pazin’s Ethnographic Museum
Draguć—stop number three. This was probably my favorite stop aside from Kotli, which I’ll get to later. Everyone else judged me & my choice to make us stop in Draguć, which is essentially in the middle of nowhere, like many of the towns on our trip. But I found the setting inspirational. It’s quiet, sure, but the view is spectacular and there are cats EVERYWHERE. I adore cats so that was enough to win me over. And while people were scarce, I didn’t mind too much because it was just nice to walk around this little town out on its own small cliff. I’d love to come back, rent an apartment, and get some writin’ done. To a writer like me, it’s solitary perfection.
View from Draguć
Overview of the town
Kotli—After Draguć and on our way to see Hum, we stumbled upon the adorably small town of Kotli, which I consider to be the hidden gem of Istria. I have no idea how many homes the town actually houses but it looked to be around six and so when I mean small, I’m not joking. But, don’t let its teeny size fool you. The town’s waterfall and cliff-top restaurant will win you over with just one look. So do yourself a favor, grab some friends and get your butt to this delightful place for a tranquil afternoon in the middle of nowhere.
“The Rovinj Family” (photo courtesy of my friend, Tihomir)
Hum—our fifth stop & the world’s smallest town! Hum was absolutely adorable. Everything was small there—even the rental apartments! The view, which seems to be a running trend in the Central Istrian towns we visited, was truly great. While the town is normally fairly quiet most days, it does hold two yearly festivals that you wouldn’t think would have found a home there: one dedicated to rakija, Croatia’s brandy, and the other, correct me if I’m wrong, that celebrates techno music. Us road trippers thought the town should just combine both festivals to really pack a festive punch.
Cute little church
And a cute little apartment
Buzet—After Hum, we made our way to Buzet, a city famous for its truffles and it’s hill climb car races. Again, this Croatian town has a charming view of the surrounding land. Buzet’s Old Town is equally delightful. Unfortunately, when we arrived pretty much all the shops and restaurants were closed for the day but I am totally up for a return trip to try out the local truffle cuisine.
The road trip team
View from Buzet
Opratlj—Since many of the towns we visited throughout our day were quite small and mostly quiet, we weren’t expecting to happen upon a hoppin’ town in the middle of nowhere, but we also definitely weren’t expecting the deafening quiet of Opratlj. I have no idea where all the people were last Saturday, but it was a complete ghost town. It’s a cute town, don’t get me wrong, but had zero people walking around. Cars were plentiful yet there were no warm bodies. Or rather, scratch that. There was one lady we saw in her home but then she closed the shutters and that was that. My friend Tonči assured me that well-attended festivals were held in Opratlj but it was hard to believe when we were there. If you want peace & quiet during non-festival days, then Opratlj is the place for you. Just be prepared to drive along super wind-y roads all the way up a big hill in order to get there.
A deserted street
An awesome orange building
Groznjan—the last stop of the day. I really enjoyed Groznjan, and it was a favorite stop for most of my friends. We arrived near dusk, but still got the chance to get ourselves acquainted with the town’s artsy nooks & crannies. Groznjan is a well-known artist colony in Istria and there is practically a gallery or two or three in almost every street. We walked through its old cobblestone streets for a bit then nestled ourselves in for some coffee & kakao before heading back to Rovinj.
Chair in a wall
Church bell tower
All-in-all, I had a fantastic time during our little tour through Central Istria and I can’t wait for the Istrian adventures that lie ahead of us this spring!
Romana Prepolec, from Zlatar Bistrica, born in Zagreb, currently lives in Zagorje, Zlatar Bistrica and used to work as a tour guide. She has been playing in the Tamburaški Orkestar (tamburica orchestra) KUD-a “KAJ”, Zlatar Bistrica for 20 years, loves to travel, and is a very social, open, and outgoing person. In her spare time, she plays the guitar at parties, listens to the music, and learns Spanish.
Romana, at the 2006 festival Trnavska brana in Trnava, Slovakia with the Tamburaški orkestar “KUD-” KAJ
1. What is your favorite place to visit in Croatia, and why?
My favorite region in Croatia is Zagorje, the northwestern part of Croatia, which is an hour by car from Zagreb, the capital. It is a quiet place to live that’s surrounded by hills and has a beautiful landscape with many castles and monuments, museums, spa resorts with natural sources of thermal water, wine routes (like a small Napa Valley, California), beautiful nature, and hospitable people. It is also a good get-away from the stressful life in big cities.
My favorite towns in Zagorje are Kumrovec and Klanjec. Kumrovec is famous as it is the birth place of the ex-president of former Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, leader of the anti-fascist movement, as well as a leader of the non-aligned movement, which was established as a balance between NATO and Warshaw pact.
In Kumrovec, the open-air museum preserves traditional cottages from end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Besides Tito’s birth house, there are ethnological collections of traditional life. The main exhibitions are: Zagorje Wedding, (Zagorska svadba), the Life of a Young Married Couple, (Život mladog bračnog para), from Hemp to Cloth, (Od konoplje i lana do platna), from Grain to Bread, (Od zrna do pogače), etc.
Muzej Staro selo Kumrovec, “Old village” open-air museum
Another wonderful place to visit is Klanjec. In the basement of Klanjec’s monastery there are two sarcophagi and in the church is also a mausoleum of Erdödy’s, Sigismund and Emerik, the founders of the monastery.
Opposite of church is a gallery of Antun Augustinčić, a famous sculptor who was born in Klanjec, one of his famous sculptor is “Peace”, and the original stands outside the UN building in New York.
2. What places or sites would you recommend to a tourist visiting Croatia, and why?
Besides the towns I mentioned, I would highly recommend visiting the following: Zagreb, the capital (Ban Jelačić square, cathedral, church of St. Marko, Gornji Grad or the Upper Town),Varaždin and its castle Stari Grad, Krapina and its Neanderthal museum, Gornja Stubica and its Oršić castle, as well as Marija Bistrica and its Croatian shrine, which been a pilgrim place for about 300 years and Pope John Paul II visited Marija Bistrica in 1998. Other places of note to visit include Belec and its baroque church and the medieval castle Veliki Tabor (which has been recently restored) in Desinić.
Croatia has a beautiful Adriatic sea, and so I will mention some of the cities in the coast that tourists should visit: Rijeka, Opatija, Rovinj, Pula, Poreč, Zadar, Šibenik, Split, Dubrovnik, Islands: Krk, Cres, Rab, Pag, Hvar, Vis, Korčula, and of course there are plenty more with crystal clear water. George Bernard Shaw, an irish playwright once said that Dubrovnik is “the pearl of the Adriatic.” The Old Town of Dubrovnik became a UNESCO World Heritage in 1979.
3. Do you have any favorite Croatian writers, poets, artists, actors, or musicians? If so, who are they and what are some of their notable works (or works of theirs you admire)?
Authors: Ante Kovačić, August Šenoa, Vjenceslav Novak
Poets: Silvije Strahimir Kranjčević, Tin Ujević, Jure Kaštelan, Dobriša Cesarić
Musicians: Arsen Dedić, author of the many songs and a well known singer and composer from Šibenik, Dalmatian, any Zagorje music which can be heard at the yearly “Kajkavske Popevke” festival which has been held in Krapina since 1966. It is the celebration of kajkavske dialect songs.
4. What changes do you hope to see made in Croatia?
I hope to see less unemployment, less corruption, foreign investment, compliance with laws and other regulations.
5. If you could tell someone just one thing about Croatia, what would you want to tell them?
I would tell them that Croatia is a small country with warm-hearted people, and I suggest that everyone visit Croatia and all the regions possible: Zagorje, Slavonija, Lika, Gorski Kotar, Istra and Pelješac (peninsulas), Dalmacija, the Islands, etc.
Spomenik himni “Lijepa naša”, Zelenjak, Risvica- monument to the Croatian national anthem “Our beautiful homeland”, in Zelenjak, Risvica. The author of the Croatian national anthem was Antun Mihanović, who was buried in Klanjec
Beautiful country, living in a safe area, people are nice and friendly, I love hanging out and singing with friends in vineyards, and also enjoy swimming in the summer at the sea.
8. What is your favorite Croatian saying or expression?
Još jenu pa ideme ili još dvije pa nejdeme!
It’s a drinking expression and it is funny in Zagorje slang. It means something like “should we drink one more glass and leave or should we drink two more and stay.”
9. What was your favorite thing about being a Zagorje tour guide?
I met many nice people from all over Croatia and many of them have invited me to their homes. I visited the family Lučić in Dubrovnik twice and I am very grateful for their hospitality.
Klanjec, baroque Church, of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with a Franciscan monastery
10. What were the most common questions you received from tourists on your tours?
They usually asked specific questions about certain churches and monuments.
11. What were the main sites you stopped at during your tours? Which ones were your favorites to talk about and why?
Krapina, because it is the capital of Krapinsko-Zagorska županija (Krapina-Zagorje region) and in 1899 the remains of a diluvial man in the area of Hušnjakov brijeg, (Hušnjakovo hill) known as homo sapiens neanderthalensis were discovered by the paleontologist Dragutin Gorjanović Kramberger.
I love the Modern Neanderthal museum there, which is really worth of visiting. It is very modern, filled with color, and quite interactive.
Krapina and Klanjec are the only two towns in Zagorje that have Franciscan monasteries.
One week ago today, I celebrated my very first birthday in Croatia, and I must say it was really great!
At first, as the date inched closer and closer, I was a bit sad because many of my friends and family wouldn’t be there to celebrate with me. But my new friends were as well as my Croatian family members, which really made the day (and week) that much more fantastic.
I was completely in awe of how many people actually remembered my birthday! I received a wonderful array of cards in the mail, a few packages, presents from friends, and even presents from some of my students. It made me feel loved. : ) Below are a few of the delightful things I was given.
Istrian cookbook & flower bouquet from one of my 1-on-1 students
The Moment, a novel, from one of my teenagers
Cheddar Bunnies from a package mailed by one of my best friends
My colorful collection of b-day cards
Chocolates, chocolates, & more chocolate from friends & students
In addition to the gifts I received, I, being the occasional self-indulgent person that I am, bought myself a book and a pair of heels.
My present to myself
And, I am also a firm believer in birthday weeks (and even birthday months) during which you have sporadic celebrations & surprises throughout your week to really give your b-day some oomph. So, in typical Kristina fashion, I celebrated with pre & post birthday parties. The pre-party included an American-style dinner made by me & Stephanie as well as Pictionary while the post-party included more Pictionary and my birthday cake.
Me & my cake
All-in-all, I’d say my first Croatian birthday was supremely satisfying and absolutely delightful.
Before I hop offline for the night, I just want to give a special “thank you” shout-out to everyone who wished me a “happy birthday,” sent cards & packages, and gave me wonderful presents. Truly, your remembrance and thoughtfulness made it one of my most memorable birthdays. Thank you.
As a fun, new addition to my blog, I have decided to conduct two interviews per month with Croatians because I have been wanting to learn more about Croatia & interact with local citizens and thought this would be a delightful way to do it while sharing their thoughts with a bigger community. So please welcome my first interviewee, Bernard Jan of Animal Friends Croatia!
Bernard Jan is an animal advocate and a writer. He works and volunteers with Animal Friends Croatia, an organization that promotes animal rights and veganism. He has six novels and a book of poems published in Croatian, three of which are directly connected to animals. In his free time, he likes to read (a lot), support his ice-hockey club Medveščak Zagreb and go to their games, go to the movies, listen to the music and spend good quality time with some of his online family and friends. He also loves to travel and meet new places and faces, when possible. Rollerblading around Jarun Lake in Zagreb is a way for him to relax during summer days.
One of the cats that hang out at Animal Friends
1. What is your favorite place to visit in Croatia, and why?
My favorite place to visit in Croatia is Opatija. In elementary school I went every year with my family to spend winter school break there and I fell in love with the place. It is a beautiful town at in the northern Adriatic, filled with nice memories, lots of hotels, greenery, flowers and it’s very European and French Riviera in its look. Maybe this is why I like it so much!
2. What places or sites would you recommend to a tourist visiting Croatia, and why?
Opatija, Motovun, Krka Falls, Plitvice Lakes, all our islands… then the Istrian towns like Poreč, Rovinj, Pula… to mention some of them. Don’t ask me why, I just feel good about those places. Some will probably notice that I did not mention Dalmatia towns and south of the country here. It is only because these areas are already overexposed as tourist destinations, so I decided to give more space to some other places that in my opinion deserve to be mentioned.
3. Do you have any favorite Croatian writers, poets, artists, actors, or musicians?
Might sound a bit odd, but I am not too much into Croatian culture and artists in general because I prefer exploring places and cultures I haven’t seen and will probably never visit during my lifetime. My favorite Croatian author is Davor Rostuhar, a freelance photographer and writer, while my favorite musician is Gibonni, one of the young musicians with amazing voice, whom I have the honor of personally knowing and with whom I worked with on the campaign “Be Above Cruelty” is Bojan Jambrošić. I should also mention here a hip hop artist IFEEL, who released the first Croatian animal rights album Animal in Me last year.
Croatian rapper, IFEEL, promoting the ZeGeVege Festival
4. Which Croatian people have you come to admire in your life (political, artistic, familial or otherwise)?
My parents first and foremost. And my friends who struggle every day to survive and remain honest and dignified. All of them are my heroes.
5. What changes do you hope to see made in Croatia?
I hope that people will finally manage to live with dignity in Croatia. Is that too much to expect?
6. Where do you see the country in 10 years?
I do not know where I see myself in 10 years, let alone this country. Hopefully not where it is now but with the promise of much brighter future on the horizon.
7. If you could tell someone just one thing about Croatia, what would you want to tell them?
It is beautiful and great place to visit. Come to Croatia, have a great time, enjoy its beauties and then return home with fond memories and not too-empty wallets.
8. What is your favorite country dish or food?
Anything that is vegan and prepared tastefully. Even though I prefer veggies over anything else at the moment, I do not think I am too picky about food. Chocolate I must not forget either. Life without chocolate does not make much sense to me. Not milk chocolate, but also not too dark. That’s a treat.
9. What do you love about Croatia?
The possibility to leave one day hahaha! I love my friends here. People are who I am most attached to. I love my hockey club. And I love the fact that this country can only go up from where it is now. It has a future—I am just not sure when this future will happen for us living here, now.
10. What have you enjoyed most about working with Animal Friends Croatia?
The fact that I am doing something useful. That I am doing things I believe in, for a cause. That I am helping those who are in a much greater need for help than any one of us and they just cannot voice that need to us to hear them. This is why they vanish silently. If nothing else, we are trying to prevent them going into the darkness without a single cry being heard from them. Their sacrifices to the modern altars of human vanity will be in vain if we do not learn something from it. If they go down, we all go down. We are all connected and we better be aware of that.
11. What have been some of Animal Friends Croatia biggest accomplishments over the years
Since Animal Friends Croatia covers many aspects of animal advocacy – from street actions, lobbying, legislation changes, educational campaigns, cooking workshops, education in schools, leafleting, etc. – it is hard to say what the biggest accomplishments in 11 years of its existence have been. Definitely one of “The Accomplishments” was the Animal Protection Act on which we collaborated and which came into force on January 1, 2007, Unfortunately, with Croatia joining the European Union this year, some of the good regulations we managed to implement in the Animal Protection Act will no longer be effective, The amended Animal Protection Act which is being enforced these days is a disappointment more than a legislation which gives hope that animals will indeed be protected and respected in this country
While advocating for Animal Friends Croatia I worked or helped with some very successful actions and campaigns, and looking back through the tunnel of time I would like point the following few:
12. Can you talk a little bit about what Animal Friends has upcoming this year including campaigns, events, and the like?
Definitely our biggest project this year too is going to be our ZeGeVege Festival (6th in a row) in September in Zagreb, then the marking of Meatout, World Vegetarian Day, World Farm Animal Days, Animal Friends Days, etc. Since the amended Animal Protection Act has just been passed, we will do our best to introduce it to the general public and the media. We will continue working on our Green Monday campaign, a low-cost and free spaying/neutering program, collaboration with the Zagreb Shelter for Abandoned Animals in Dumovec through “Adopting is Cool!” actions and the promotion of animal rights in general. Those are only some of the activities we are planning to do this year and I am sure that many small, unplanned things will also rise during the year.
13. What animal issues are you most passionate about? Which issues do you think need urgent attention in Croatia?
Personally, I am most passionate about animals abused for experimentation, either for completely pointless testing of cosmetics and cleansers or for testing drugs. We all know humans and rats and rabbits and cats and other animals do not have the same structure, so testing drugs on one animal species to be applied to another species does not make much sense. The result cannot be the same and the history of testing drugs already proved that drugs that helped one animal species killed or affected serious injuries to humans. Besides, all things eventually NEED to be tested on humans, so why test them on animals in the first place?
Another animal issue I am personally very, very passionate about is the killing of seal pups for fur. This is something I just cannot tolerate and accept, so this is why I wrote a short novel Look for Me under the Rainbow to bring this slaughter closer to the eyes and hearts of general public.
Of course I do not eat animals or use any animal products for a reason. We can have a perfectly happy and fulfilling life without inflicting pain, misery and suffering on other beings.
Croatia needs to urgently solve many issues, both regarding animals and humans. For instance, Croatia is lacking in good vegan and vegetarian options, both when it comes to stores and restaurants. Vegetarian and vegan tourists will face quite a challenge trying to eat vegetarian/vegan when coming on a holiday in Croatia. Also, many issues and aspects of animal abuse and monitoring need to be solved in factory farming, animal experimentation, illegal breeding of companion animals or illegal & legal hunting. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done regarding legislation and education of Croatians about the compassion and empathy towards animals.
Animal Friends’ action against fur in 2011
14. How would you rate Croatia’s veg eating options on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being highly sufficient & 1 being completely nonexistent)? Where are the best veg options available?
Croatia’s veg eating options are very poor and I would rate them 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. Animal Friends Croatia has made a Veggie Guide with the list of stores, restaurants, etc. in Croatia. But aside from this list, you can practically buy veggies and fruit on the markets, in almost every store, and order vegetarian or vegan (without cheese) pizzas when you dine out, etc. You just need to ask and hope that you do not look too weird or out of this world when asking for a decent vegan or vegetarian meal.
15. Could you recommend a couple delicious veg recipes that use ingredients found in any supermarket in Croatia?
Recipes and me do not go hand in hand at all. However, some real good vegan dishes one can prepare with the ingredients found in supermarkets in Croatia can be viewed by clicking on the following links:
16. What book, quote, photo, video, story, etc. have you found most inspiring/has inspired you as an animal advocate?
To be honest, I have found many books inspiring during my animal advocacy since I love to read and it is impossible to list them all here. But I definitely must point out one amongst them all and that is Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust by Charles Patterson, which I had the honor to translate into Croatian. Free the Animals! by Ingrid Newkirk also left a big emotional impact on me.
Quotes? I like quotes, so I will choose a few here.
“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
“Men have forgotten this truth, but you must not forget it. You remain responsible forever for what you have tamed.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
“Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”- Elie Wiesel
“All that is best in me I have given to (animals) and I mean to stand by them to the last and share their fate whatever it may be. If it is true that there is to be no haven of rest for them when their sufferings here are at an end, I, for one, am not going to bargain for any heaven for myself. I shall go without fear where they go, and by the side of my brothers and sisters from the forests and the fields, from skies to seas, lie down to merciful extinction in their mysterious underworld, safe from any further torments.” – Preface to “The Story of San Michele” by Axel Munthe
More beautiful thoughts are at the following links:
While I’m certainly no sappy Valentine’s Day romantic, I will happily always do something for V-Day even while others around me seem scornful of the holiday.
Photo credit: openfile.ca
My thinking is as follows:
Why should V-Day only be for lovers? True, according to the history of the day, it is in honor of St. Valentine who preformed marriages for lovers in secret when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men. But, I prefer to take V-Day’s “Day of Love” proclamation a bit more broadly and I say, why not celebrate it with friends, family, and other loved ones, even faithful companion animals? They deserve love and to be remembered too, don’t they? I think so.
Many, many people’s response to V-Day is, “Why not do something special for that special someone/someones every other day of the year?” While I wholeheartedly believe that we should always remember those we love throughout the year and express our gratitude for them whenever possible through both little and big gestures, I also have the feeling that most people, even those who have the automatic V-Day response mentioned above, usually don’t do anything all that extraordinary for their special someones during other times of the year. And I’m not saying people don’t ever do anything special, all I’m saying is that when you get to the nitty-gritty of it, we are only human and don’t always remember to treat the ones we love as they should be treated. So, why not take V-Day as a time to remind ourselves to do something real nice and real special for our loved ones? Take the day to go a little bit over the top than you normally would, whether that be cooking a five-course dinner, booking a hot air balloon ride, spending the day doing anything your Valentine wants to do, or even just sending our little “I love you & am grateful to have you in my life and for all the things you do” postcards to friends and family.
Although I was once a part of the Anti-Valentine’s Day bunch way back in high school, I’m kind of done with the whole “let’s not like something because it’s sappy and consumerist, etc.” attitude. I agree that at least in the U.S. V-Day has been highly consumerist-based, as have most other mainstream holidays, but why let what others or corporations destroy a perfectly sound holiday otherwise? Perhaps it’s just my advocacy mentality kicking in, but let’s take back the damn holiday and make it our own again.
Photo credit: himmelink.com
Anyways, so those are just some of my ideas about V-Day that I felt like sharing because I’m sick of people making the day too-sappy and also tired of people making it into the ultimate day to avoid & hate. I say, just spread the love, people. ‘Cause in the end that’s all there is, sweet cakes.
For my V-Day, I made my fantastic roommate a palačinke brunch and we’ll be going out later with a couple friends to have a drink and enjoy some live music. Also, I’ll be calling my family back in the States and wishing them a Happy V-Day too.
For all those How I Met Your Mother fans. (Photo credit: Etsy.com)
And to share just a bit of love here on Tumblr, I thought I’d post some V-Day themed links, photos, quotes, and videos that I’ve rounded up online for ya’ll. So, just sit back, relax, enjoy. : )
“Create your community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”—The Elders Oraibi, Hopi Nation (June 8, 2000) (discovered in the book Making Good by Billy Parish & Dev Aujla)
Summer, fall, winter spring: Zagreb is fabulous any time of the year. It’s Croatia’s largest city as well as its capital. Young people from villages all across Croatia flock to it each year in hopes of finding employment and entertainment. Compared to the likes of New York City, London, or Paris, Zagreb is relatively small with a population of just around 1,110,517, but you’ll never feel overwhelmed or cramped and the city is big enough to always stay interesting throughout the year.
An exhibit inside Zagreb’s Museum of Contemporary Art
My personal favorite of the unusual bunch is the Museum of Broken Relationships. It started as a traveling exhibit, picking up items from people all over the world that once symbolized something about their break-up or relationship, and now it has a permanent home in Zagreb. Each item is accompanied by a short blurb about what it meant or a story about what happened to the relationship. The museum’s exhibit is always changing as anyone can contribute an item to it. Most recently, the museum won the 2011 European Museum Award for the Most Innovative Museum in Europe.
One of many items inside the Museum of Broken Relationships
Of course, there is plenty more to do in Zagreb than just visiting its fabulous array of museums. If you’re a shopaholic, this city might be your dream and your downfall. The city now houses 6 huge shopping centers that include popular European stores such as Zara, H&M, C&A, and Mango among many others. But if you’re more of a local shopper, the city also offers a bounty of boutiques such as Etna Maar and Linea Exclusive. And if you’re just interested in doing some souvenir shopping, Zagreb has you covered as well. Check out Natura Croatica and any shop around Ban Jelačić Square for traditional Croatian souvenirs.
While Zagreb shopping is great during the summer, it’s also wonderful during the winter. So if you can manage a trip to the city during the snow-covered months, you’ll be in for a treat as many locals set up winter market stalls all along the city center streets. You can purchase anything from handmade Croatian souvenirs, glassware, delicious street food & edible goodies to hand-painted scarves and handmade jewelry.
In addition to shopping, Zagreb has many photo-opt worthy historical and cultural sites. These include the Croatian National Theater, the Zagreb Cathedral, Holy Mary’s Column & Fountain, Ban Josip Jelačić Square, the Well of Life, St. Mark’s Church, the Lotrščak Tower, Zagreb’s Botanical Garden, and the Stone Gate. You can sign up for a tour of the city’s most popular sites or just map out a route for yourself as everything’s fairly close together.
St. Mark’s Church
After a day of museum-hopping, shopping, and sight-seeing, you’ll be happy to know that Zagreb can satisfy anyone’s craving for some grub. Without a doubt, Zagreb is where Croatian cuisine is at its most diverse. There are tons of restaurants populating each street in the city, especially at its center, and range from traditional Croatia and Italian to Chinese and vegan. I particularly enjoy Canazona, an Italian restaurant with a wide variety of pasta & pizza options and adorable décor. It’s perfect for a date night or a family dinner. Two other Italian-themed restaurants of note include Leonardo and Nocturno, which are right next to each other and feature lovely outdoor seating. And if you want to try some traditional Croatian food, then check out Stari Fijaker and Kaptolska Klet. While I have yet to try Zagreb’s ethnic food restaurants like Mex Cantina and Asia, and the city’s top vegan eateries, Vegehop and Nova, I hope to do so soon as they have received wonderful reviews and have scrumptious-sounding menus.
A delicious pizza from Leonardo
While it’s easy to stuff yourself silly at any Zagreb eatery, make sure to make room for some dessert. If you want some delicious cake or a fantastical ice cream creation, stop by Ilica street’s famous Vincek pastry shop. And if you’re like me and crave American-style desserts, check out The Cookie Factory, which serves brownies with ice cream, cupcakes, and many types of cookies like chocolate chip and peanut butter.
It’s nearing the end of the day, and you still haven’t gotten enough of Zagreb. Then you better check out the city’s nightlife. Popular clubs include Škola, Saloon, Piranha, and Aquarius. And there are plenty of bars to choose from too like Route 66, Maraschino Bar, and Sedmica. But if bumpin’ and grindin’ isn’t your thing, then consider buying some tickets to a theater, opera, or ballet show at the Croatian National Theatre, grabbing a movie at any of the city’s CineStar locations, enjoying some smooth jazz, or taking a nighttime “sensual” tour of the city.
Whatever you choose to do during your visit to Zagreb, I’m sure you’ll find it both stimulating and charming and a perfect blend of old and new Croatia.
Ban Josip Jelačić Square
For more information on Zagreb’s many offerings, check out this website. For a list of city eateries, click here, for a frequently updated events calendar, go here, and for accommodation information and any other Zagreb-related needs, check out the Zagreb Tourist Board website.
I just wanted to make a couple quick announcements for a little bit of shameless self-promotion. :)
If you’re a fellow writer or just interested in the topic of writer’s block, check out my piece titled "Writer’s Block: Inspiration’s Grinch" on Squalory’s blog. (And be sure to read their second quarterly issue here. They’re an online lit. mag. by the way.)
Also, quite a few of my Croatia Chronicle posts have been featured on LikeCroatia.hr, a Croatian travel website. You can check out an archive of them here. And I’d suggest just taking a browse through the website in general because they have some fantastic articles about where to go in Croatia & what to see and eat.
Weekend in Munich: Bone-Chillin’ Cold & Jam-Packed Sightseeing
This past weekend I spent my time in Munich with fellow coworkers and some of their students. We left Friday night on a midnight bus. Little tired me thought I could fit in a near solid 8-hour sleeping gig but due to a variety of reasons (i.e. noise, stops, the general discomfort of a bus) I was unable to get more than 2 hours of shuteye, which weren’t even that restful anyways. Once we arrived in Munich around 9:00 am, we thankfully got to check into our rooms right away but soon after we were back out on the street again to begin our sightseeing tour.
Saturday was jam-packed with stops all over downtown Munich and boy, did we walk. While I have walked a ton, especially during summer vacation, it is quite different to walk so much in the cold. And it wasn’t just a normal winter cold, no. It was freezing. I had to triple-layer up. Craziness. So while me and everyone else shook from the cold, we saw a number of historic buildings and sites on our tour of the city. These included the following:
And then on Sunday, we went to the Deutsches Museum or the German Museum of Masterpieces of Technology and Science.
I really enjoyed this museum and it was huge—absolutely gigantic. The exhibits ranged from physics and musical instruments to biology and aviation technology.
It was amazing. I tried my best to get to each floor and every exhibit but I think I still missed out on a couple. Maybe if I’m ever back in Munich I’ll get to explore it again.
On Sunday, we also visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial.
It was very interesting and informative but terribly sad. It was so strange and astonishing to walk along the exact paths where victims of the Nazi regime trudged, worked, and suffered. It was an experience like no other. The memorial museum was well-done and was packed full of information. While I hope that something like Hitler’s regime never rises to such great heights again, I’m glad that the camp is so well preserved so that future generations can come to visit and remember what happened.
Overall, I enjoyed my little weekend trip in Munich but I’ve also come to the conclusion that 8-hour bus trips are a no-go for me in the future. I could do 20-hour car rides to Florida when I was a kid but now I think my cap is around 6 hours. Anything more and I’m just an irritated, tired mess. Oh well, I’ll keep that in mind for my next trips.
The new term just started last Monday but it already feels like it’s well on its way. I rang in my New Year not with a typical celebration but rather with sleeping, falling into a deep slumber at 11:00 pm and waking up at 3:00 am with a jolt. While this may paint me as an old woman figure, a restful nap was just what I needed. Even though my New Year’s started out with some sleeping and later a week and a half long sickness, I am proud to say that I feel much happier this year than in years before. I have decided to take my 2013 as a new start by pushing myself to seize a new outlook on life and the future.
Photo credit: kickass-creatives.com
While this “new start” mentality was conjured up prior to the New Year, my discovery and subsequent reading of The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin helped really push it into my everyday consciousness. If you haven’t heard of the book or read it yet, I highly recommend it, not only because it’s a quick, easy read but also because of the eye-opening conclusions Rubin draws from happiness research and her own experiences during her year-long Happiness Project. As I sat back in my bed reading through her book, a bell chimed in my head, signaling to me that adopting a Happiness Project for 2013 would be a perfect way to help me take up my new outlook on life. And what is this new outlook I speak of? Well, I have vowed to do the following:
Embrace me for who I am, not who I wish I was
Be positive & seek solutions even in the face of adversity
Make the world sunny on gloomy days (both in a literal & figurative sense)
Keep up the good fight and be an even more involved advocate
Be proactive about my future goals and work to achieve them by taking small, deliberate steps
Overall, I want to be able to carry my new “outlook” into my later years in life and I figured now is a perfectly good time to start embracing and nurturing it.
Photo credit: gurpreetlife.blogspot.com.
While I have adopted some of Rubin’s happiness project resolutions and commandants, I also personalize mine a bit. I have five resolution categories: Boost Energy, Remember Love & People, Cultivate Passions, Venture Out, and Relax, Relax & Be Mindful. Some of my resolutions for this year include: sleep earlier, up earlier; sing & dance in the morning; quit nagging & complaining; reconnect with 3 old friends; submit creative work; cook more new & savory recipes; practice the art of small talk; bake something each week; memorize favorite quotations; and try out a new relaxation technique every week. I am not taking on all these resolutions and more at once but rather breaking them up by month. I like pulling a few resolutions from each category and putting them into practice each month instead of going category-by-category. I plan to rotate the resolutions throughout 2013. What I like most about taking on this project is that it works in the confines of my everyday life and embraces that fact that you can find happiness right in your own home and inside your current self and that you don’t need to make some radical life-altering moves to achieve greater happiness.
If your interested in starting a Happiness Project too, definitely read Rubin’s book and visit her website.
Since embracing my new outlook and beginning my Happiness Project, I already feel much happier and lighter. I am much more able to let go of trying situations and feelings and am content with just being me. Also, I feel that the world has tons more opportunities and possibilities now because I am more open to discovering and receiving them. I am definitely looking forward to what 2013 holds.
“No human face is exactly the same in its lines on each side, no leaf perfect in its lobes, no branch in its symmetry. All admit irregularity as they imply change; and to banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality. All things are literally better, lovelier, and more beloved for the imperfections which have been divinely appointed, that the law of human life may be Effort, and the law of human judgment, Mercy.”—
(Taken from in The Happiness Project Quote-a-Day e-mail)
Compared to countries like the Czech Republic and South Korea, Croatia is rather underdeveloped in the TEFL teaching market. While there are jobs available, they are few and usually hard to come by. Today, in this post I hope I’ll be able to offer some insight for TEFL job searchers interested in working in Croatia that might make it easier to find employment in the country.
Overview of Zagreb
The Job Search Process
First off, if you have obtained your TEFL certificate, try contacting your institution’s advisors or consult the school’s online career center to see if either of these resources can be helpful to you.
If these avenues turn up dry, don’t get discouraged. Try the good ole fashioned Google search. When I was looking for a job, the usual TEFL job boards that you’ll find on such sites like eslcafe.com/jobs and eslbase.com/jobs don’t provide any information on open positions in Croatia. Of course in time this might change, but as of this blog post things remain the same. Even if you don’t find any current postings on these job board sites, you might discover a few outdated postings. While these won’t necessarily help you find a job, they can be useful resources as the qualifications they list will be good indicators of what Croatian language schools are generally searching for. For instance, I once found a posting dated back oh I want to say to 2000 and the qualifications this particular school listed (TEFL certificate required, 1 year of experience preferred, Bachelor’s degree) are quite similar to the qualifications schools are currently seeking.
Croatian National Theater in Zagreb
In addition to looking up old job postings, it’s a good idea to search TEFL forums for job search advice from other job seekers and experienced teachers. I mainly consulted Dave’s ESL Café General Europe Forum and the site’s Macedonia and the Balkans Forum. Check out what people have to say and make your own inquires to see if you can find out some helpful job search tips or make valuable connections.
While my above suggestions are helpful for gaining background information on the Croatian job market, truly your best bet for finding some type of open teaching position in Croatia is compiling a list of school contacts using websites like eslbase.com/schools/Croatia and the British Council Croatia’s School Finder. Once you’ve got a nice list of schools you’re interested in, make sure to study their websites and check to see if they already have a “jobs” or “employment” section on their website. If they do, see what they’re looking for and if they don’t (which is common), look at how they describe their school, mission, curriculum, and teachers. For instance, many schools say they have small group-based classes and expect teachers to be able to handle parent-teacher relations. Take out the key words and skills from these areas and figure out how you can highlight them in your resume/CV and cover letter. After you have your CV and cover letter ready to go, then send them out like crazy via e-mail to all the schools you’re interested in. The more you send, the more likely you’ll get a response.
Stari grad in Varaždin
Now, a word on the response time. It is very likely that you’ll only hear back from just a few schools. While all companies use e-mail now it Croatia, communication can still be slow or nonexistent for a variety of reasons. Knowing this ahead of time can help you make up a Plan B. About two to three weeks after you submit your CV and cover letter (if your job search time line permits this waiting period), send each school a polite follow-up e-mail and see if you’ll get a response that way. If you still don’t receive a response via e-mail, pick your favorite schools and give them a call using Google Voice or Skype and inquiry about your CV and possible employment opportunities. E-mail is still a relatively new form of communication in Croatia and so a phone call might end up being the best route to take.
Trends in the Croatian TEFL Job Market
While I am in no way an expert on TEFL employment or the Croatian job market, I have been able to draw some conclusions about the country based on my own experiences during my job search. What I’ve discovered is the following:
1. Pretty much all TEFL employment in Croatia takes place at private language institutions. In order to work in the public schools, you must have a Master’s in Education.
2. Though you can find full-time employment as a TEFL teacher in Croatia, part-time is most common. If you’re looking for work in a larger city like Zagreb, Rijeka, or Split then perhaps you’ll be able to pair up two part-time teaching gigs.
Zrće beach on Novalja, Pag
3. The majority of schools require a TEFL certificate or equivalent like the CELTA (some say they even prefer the CELTA over other TEFL certificates).
4. While I sent out my CV and cover letter between January and March, most language schools hire for the fall in late July, August, and September when they know their class loads and number of students. Of course, feel free to apply earlier like me to get them interested in you before formal job openings are posted (some of which can be found on the Croatian job site, Mojposao.hr). While schools typically do their hiring during this period, some jobs might open up in the winter starting in January and so schools may look to hire new teachers during this month or the December before. Yet, the employment found during this particular period is usually just part-time work. (And just an FYI, private school classes begin in September and follow the rhythm of the state school calendar.)
5. Even though most of the schools would like to meet you before they hire you, an in-person interview is usually not a requirement. A Skype interview or even a phone interview can suffice depending on the school. This is good news for those of us that can’t manage to make the move before securing employment.
6. The type of Bachelor’s degree you have usually has no effect on your likelihood of obtaining a TEFL job in Croatia. This being said, I have spoken to a couple school directors who have expressed their disappointment with native speakers in the past because of their lack of knowledge of the English language, especially English grammar. And so, you might find that some schools prefer hiring native speakers with English degrees of some sort since they may be weary of hiring others.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
7. Most schools prefer prospective teachers to have at least a year of teaching experience but you can still secure employment with zero formal experience. But, if you don’t have formal teaching experience (like myself), it’s good to have other skills and similar experiences going for you such as tutoring experience, a degree in English, ESL job shadowing, student teaching, or some kind of involvement with ESL students. If you don’t have any experience, not even with tutoring, and you still have some time before you apply to schools, I’d suggest contacting some local schools in your area with ESL programs and see if you can observe some class and even practice a few lessons with their students. This will definitely make you stand out a bit more to prospective employers.
8. I have found that most of the schools I spoke to really took a liking to my familiarity with Croatia and the Croatian language. While these aren’t official requirements, they’ll definitely get you the leg up in the job search process here.
9. Along with a working knowledge of Croatian or the country, having duel-citizenship is extremely helpful. This might not be a realistic attribute to have for many TEFL job seekers but if you already have duel-citizen and you’re looking for a job in Croatia then you’re already ahead of the curve. Schools will provide help with securing a work visa for you but if you’re already a citizen, it makes it a lot easier for them (and for you) so they’ll usually be more willing to work with these job candidates.
10. Send a thank you e-mail or better yet a thank you card after a job interview, just like in the States. Cultivating relationships in Croatia is of high importance culturally so make sure you show you’re gratitude and that you’re willing to keep in touch.
Overall, just do your research, be patient, and be proactive. Comparatively, it is much more difficult to find a job in Croatia than in other countries but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you put in the effort then you might just find a reward at the end of your search. Good luck!
I Ain’t Got All the Answers but I Might Have Some: Tips for the TEFL Job Search
For many prospective TEFL teachers, the New Year brings hopes of finding that perfect overseas job. But, where to start? For a while before I began my job research, this question kept spinning around in my head. But once I was finally on my way skimming and scanning numerous TEFL websites, I knew I was getting that much closer to finding promising post-graduation employment. Though I am by no means a TEFL job advisor or expert of any kind, perhaps I might be able to help some eager teachers or soon-to-be-graduates by sharing a few key points of insight I gained during my job search. Enjoy!
1. Get ‘em Talkin’: Conduct Informational Interviews
Though we, as prospective employees, are hoping to snag plenty of interviews, never underestimate the often useful yet frequently neglected informational interview. I conducted one with a professor of mine who taught abroad for two years (one year in Finland and one year in Czech Republic) after graduating. Though the TEFL job market is bit different than when she taught abroad, learning about her experiences overseas really solidified my choice to take time off and teach.
Photo credit: college.monster.com
So if you know someone (colleague, professor, friend, acquaintance, LinkedIn contact, etc.) who took the plunge and taught abroad, send them a friendly message asking to chat with them a bit about their experiences and their job search. They may be able to provide you with invaluable insight into living and working overseas. And who knows, they might be able to tip you in the right direction of snagging your dream job.
If you don’t know someone personally that has gone abroad to teach, hit the net and go on TEFL job forums, blogs, and Facebook groups to find someone you can interview. And don’t limit yourself to just one interview. If you want to chat up more people, go right ahead. I say, the more information, the better when doing a job search.
2. Research, Research, Research
Being who I am, I compulsively research when it comes to any job search. That being said, I have met plenty other TEFL teachers who spent perhaps 1/20 of the time I did researching for their job. Different techniques work for different people so choose the one that’ll work for you. This being said, I believe in the power of research because even if you can’t use up all the information you find yourself, you might be able to impart that knowledge onto someone else down the road and well, sharing is caring and it’s just downright delightful. Anywho, even if you don’t spend hours and hours pouring over TEFL job databases, blogs, and forums like me, at least take a look at a few and get a little educated on the country job markets you’re interested in. Also, it’s always a good idea to actually research the culture of the country/countries you’re looking into (if you’re not already familiar with them) prior to arriving on their soil so you don’t seem so much like a tourist. I’d also suggest doing some digging on the schools you’re considering applying to in order to make sure they provide a positive work environment and are fair to their employees. If you can’t find something about the schools on TEFL forums, then e-mail or call the school headmaster/principal and ask for the contact information of a few current and past teachers. They’ll be able to give you the low-down on what’s up at their institution.
Photo credit: internationalteflacademy.com
Another important aspect of the research process that is often neglected by many applicants (TEFL and otherwise) is examining appropriate resume/CV and cover letter format and etiquette. Though you won’t necessarily find a consensus on how to properly format your resume/CV for a TEFL job, you’ll at least get an idea of how to present your work and academic experiences to your potential employers. It might also help to do a bit of research on how native workers of a particular country format their resume/CV as different cultures expect employees to highlight different information. For instance, in Germany it’s common to state your date of birth on your CV and also attach a photo, which is quite different from the US model. So take the time to do this research because it might make a world of difference in the end.
Below I’ve compiled a list of web resources I found helpful during my job search. Hope they might be of some use!
3. Chat It Up: Join the Conversation & Make Connections
Related to my tip above is to research & join TEFL forums. I provided some links above with forums I consulted during my job search and they are filled with loads of helpful information. These forums are extremely useful for potential job seekers because they can give you a window into what the job market is like and where to find jobs.
Photo credit: scoop.it
Also, forum contributors provide good insight into country administrative practices (i.e. concerning work visas, etc.) which is information you usually can’t find in other places. Join some forums and go ahead and pose any questions you have to the online community. Many of your questions might have already been asked in the past so search for them in the forums and see if you can get your answer that way too. Take advantage of these forums as they provide transparency in the job search process which will help you from getting blindsided later on.
4. Zero-In on Your Top Choices (And Maybe Get a TEFL Certificate)
Narrow down your country and school choices so that you can do some more focused research on them. Contact current teachers and even current students to find out what you can about the institution. Also, make sure you read the school job ads (and websites) (if available) carefully so that you can try to match the skills they’re looking for to your previous experiences via your resume and cover letter. Make sure to tailor these job documents to each school you’re applying to. Though it might seem time consuming, personalizing the content will show the schools that you’re serious about them and that you want to be taken seriously. Moreover, it will give you an edge over all the other teachers pushing and shoving for those employment positions.
Now I’ll address the frequently asked question, “Do I need to get a TEFL certificate?” The answer depends on where you want to work. Many institutions in Europe require a TEFL certificate or equivalent to teach at language institutions while in countries like China and South Korea, you can easily snag a job without certification as long as you have a Bachelor’s degree. I have even heard of some institutions in Europe that’ll hire you without a TEFL certificate but these are often more difficult opportunities to find. My advice is to do the research on your country/countries of choice and weigh your options. If you find it would suit your plans, budget, and country to not get a certificate, then don’t. That being said, if you choose not to get a certificate at least try to purchase (or borrow) some books on language teaching, second language acquisition, and linguistics so that you’ll enter your job with some teaching and English language knowledge.
Photo credit: ca-school.cz
On the other hand, if your budget and time allows for a TEFL certificate course then by all means go for it. Obtaining a certificate definitely won’t hurt you in any way but be sure to do research on the course and institution prior to giving them your credit card number. Some certificate courses are better than others. The main thing you want to aim for in a course is one that’ll give you at least 120 hours of coursework as many language schools won’t acknowledge your certification without that many hours of work. Also, though many courses don’t offer a student teaching practicum, try to find one that does because 1) this will look great to your potential employer and, 2) you’ll get a taste for what it is really like to teach.
I chose to get my TEFL certificate through TEFL Institute. I was happy with the course (I chose the online one) and I also got to complete 20 hours of student teaching, which I found extremely helpful as I was able to put my lesson plans to use and see how they worked/needed to be changed. I also supplemented my TEFL certificate with two mini certificates through TEFL Institute, Teaching English to Kids and Business English. These mini courses helped give me a little more in-depth understanding of these particular kinds of teaching.
Ultimately it’s up to you so choose the course that’s right for your time and budget and look up some course reviews here (http://www.teflcoursereview.com) before signing up.
5. E-mail Like Hell (Oh, and Follow-Up Too!)
After you’ve crafted your brand spankin’ new TEFL resume and cover letter, send it out to all the institutions that you’re interested in. If you weren’t able to narrow down your choices, then widen your net as much as you can and e-mail as many respectable institutions in your choice country as possible. The more resumes you have floating around, the more likely you’ll get a positive response. Of course, don’t be jaded if you get turned down by some institutions. Just keep applying and make sure to tweak your resume and cover letter as needed throughout your job search process.
If you’ve sent out a bunch of resumes and cover letters and it’s been a couple weeks since you’ve heard anything from anyone, then go ahead and send some follow-up e-mails. This will show the institutions that you’re very interested in them (and also remind them that you still exist).
Photo credit: cheezburger.com
Still no response after the follow-up e-mail? Try a follow-up phone call. In some parts of the world, people don’t check or use e-mail as compulsively as Americans do and so sometimes the best way to get in contact with a potential overseas employer is via the old standby, the telephone. Calling overseas can certainly rack up your phone bill so open a Google Voice account and you can call most countries for just a few cents per minute.
I hope these five tips can be helpful in some way. If any prospective TEFL teachers out there have any questions about the job search or questions about my experience abroad, feel free to hit the “Ask Me Anything” button and I’ll try my best to answer your questions! Best of luck!
“We will ultimately not be judged by our technology. We won’t be judged by our design. We won’t be judged by our intellect and reason. Ultimately, you judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich, the powerful, the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated. Because it is in that nexus that we actually began to understand truly profound things about who we are.”—
It’s definitely been an experience living here in Croatia for these last few months. Not only have I learned how to be a teacher (which, of course, I’m still in the process of learning), but I’ve also discovered more about Croatia and its society than I’ve ever known before. Moreover, countless times my predetermined ideas and expectations have been tested and so I’ve definitely learned more about myself as well.
As I sit here typing up this post, I still just really can’t believe that it’s already time for the winter holidays. This term came and went so so quickly. I’ve made it through the crazy stresses of this job and starting a new life in a different country, and well, I suppose we’ve all made it through “the end of the world” so bravo to us all. :)
My experience thus far has without a doubt been a major rollercoaster ride with a good chunk of ups and plenty of downs. But now that this first term has come to an end, I feel like my life here has stabilized and is now more akin to a lazy river ride.
A Teacher’s Life
Of course, one of the major stresses I’ve encountered is transitioning or rather, plummeting headfirst into a teacher’s life. Now as I reflect on all the wonderful teachers I’ve had, I just want to tell ‘em all “thank you for being so great and for your amazing commitment to your job.” Truly, ya just don’t know what it means to be a teacher, how difficult and stressful the job is, until ya actually live it. When I first began trying to puzzle all my job pieces together from administrative duties to dealing with stacks and stacks of books to lesson planning to classroom management, I just wanted to scream.
Stacks of my many class books & binders
I worked and worked and worked all the time for almost this whole term just trying my best to get a feel for how to do everything. And now, finally mid-way through my time here, I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (i.e. free time!). I look back on my last few months here and truly I can’t believe how I made it through all the chaos and work. But I am so proud that I did. And, I am finally getting the hang of this teaching thing. My lesson planning time as significantly dwindled (so now I can actually get up in the morning and ya know, relax), I feel more in control of my classes, and I feel much more confident with my ability to teach the necessary information and have fun with my students. When I first began, I almost felt like a fake. But now, I feel like a real teacher and what’s more, I can really see my students improving and it’s a fantastic feeling.
Another stress I’ve had to encounter is living on my own. I do have a wonderful roommate and fellow teacher, Stephanie, to share a good flat with, but I’ve never been so far from family and friends.
View from my apartment
The first couple months here were tough not only on the job front but the emotional front as well. I felt homesick often and it was difficult for me to fathom only sharing brief moments with friends and family over Skype. Skype is a fantastic invention, to be sure, but is not a replacement for genuine human contact. Thankfully, as I’ve started to become more comfortable with my job and with living in Rovinj, I no longer have bouts of homesickness. Sure, every so often I feel tinges of nostalgia creep up but for the most part I am now content and not bothered very much by the distance.
Rovinj: From Hoppin’ to Nothin’
Oh, Rovinj, Rovinj. Truly, it’s a beautiful town and probably one of the most picturesque in all of Croatia. I mean, just take a look for yourself.
Rovinj from a tour boat, the Glass Boat
One of my favorite photos I’ve taken in Rovinj
I swear, you just can’t take a bad picture in Rovinj. And during the summertime/tourist season, the town is really hoppin’ with life. It’s completely packed with people, though not overwhelmingly so like neighboring Italy’s Venice. Moreover, everything is open! All the restaurants, shops, and café-bars are bursting with life. Summertime is when Rovinj really shines. But during the winter Rovinj is considered “dead” by locals and other Croats alike. Though I heard of the phenomena from numerous family members, this fact didn’t quite hit me until I walked through the town one late fall’s day and saw restaurant after restaurant locked shut and dark. Sure, there’s some restaurants, shops, and café-bars still open, but the majority of them close down for the winter months and open again when business is more fruitful in March and April as tourists begin setting up camp. Since life here has become nearly nonexistent, it has been quite difficult to meet people. But, thankfully, things seem to be shaping up for the better now that some time has passed and I’ve become more settled into life here. I am finally meeting some people and I hope that 2013 will bring even more acquaintances and friends.
Back to My Roots
One of the many benefits of being in Croatia, aside from getting to know its many culturally distinct areas, is visiting my dear family and friends that I normally only see every two years for a short period during the summer. It’s been absolutely wonderful seeing everyone each time I come to Zagorje for a visit. And it’s equally fantastic to stuff myself with Zagorski home-cookin’ and large-portions at the region’s restaurants. Yum!
Some Zagorski home-cookin’
Family is very important to me so it really makes me happy to know that I’ve been able to visit them regularly and get to know everyone just a bit better. When I’m in Zagorje, I’m home.
From Comforting to Infuriating: Croatian Expressions
During my time here, I have come to love quite a few Croatian expressions that always linger in the back of my mind like memories made with old friends. My all-time favorite is akin to the English “Just let it roll off your back.” This expression perfectly illuminates how many Croats deal with situations. Many don’t get hot-and-bothered by stresses, especially those on the job, since they seem to have developed a coping mechanism where you just let things go instead of dwelling on ‘em. To a control-freak and perfectionist like me, this has been a difficult mentality for me to grasp but little by little it’s seeping into my psyche and I’m more than happy to embrace it. Since adopting it as my mantra of sorts, I’ve become more at ease with decision-making, stresses, and future plans. It’s calmed me down. Thank god.
Another expression I’ve come to fancy is, “The beginning is always hard.” Everyone kept telling me this when I first began my job and they were all right. The beginning was beyond belief hard but now that some time has passed and I have more of a feel for it everything is a lot easier. This expression is a good one to remember especially when you start feeling like you just won’t get through ‘til the end. Keep on fightin’ and you’ll get through it eventually.
Yet there’s another expression that I’ve heard (in variations) from nearly every single Croat I have spoken with that I 100% do no and will never embrace and it’s the saying, “That’s just the way it is.” And though Croatia has some really great expressions, this one drives me absolutely up-the-wall insane. Every time it escapes someone’s mouth, I just wanna shake them and yell, “BUT THAT’S NOT HOW IT HAS TO BE!” Yes, perhaps, there are some things in Croatia that are difficult and tedious to change, but it’s also true that if you just sit back and accept everything without taking any action then of course, things will be just how they are because no one dares to change them. I have a strongly embedded advocate mentality so it really infuriates me when I hear this expression because no matter how much of a pain-in-the-ass something might be to change for the better I think it’s always worth it and always possible. Indeed, many of the wonderful achievements and advances in animal, workers’, and human rights could never have happened if someone didn’t stand up and demand change.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Croatian Habits
Along with Croatian expressions, I’ve become better acquainted with many Croatian habits. Though I’ve always had a flavor for them through my summertime experiences in the country, I’ve never quite felt them in full force until now. They range from stuff-your-face eating to hours-long conversations to smoking way too much and frighteningly fast driving. Now, of course I love the eating part since I am a big foodie. And I think even my body has gotten used to the ridiculous amount of food to the point where my figure looks much the same as it did before I arrived. Win! And the conversations are equally filling since it’s always nice to chit-chat with family and friends. I’m usually on the quieter side during conversations though but bit by bit I’m learning to open up and be a little more gregarious.
There are many Croatian habits that I’m completely on board with but the excessive smoking— absolutely not. Coming from the U.S. where smoking has more or less become a taboo to a place where I must inhale smoke in essential every establishment has been difficult to stomach, literally. Initially, I wanted puke, but ya know with time the smell of anything falls into the background and you just get used to it. Though I can sit in a bar or café surrounded by smokers now without hacking away, I still hate it with a passion. In the U.S., smokers are the minority but in Croatia they’re the majority. This is one feature of U.S. life that I desperately wish can be carried over into Croatia in the near future.
Another Croatian vice is speedy driving as well as drunk driving. On occasion I too drive a bit too fast, but I really haven’t seen fast driving like I have here. And what makes it worse is that the roads curve and wind so you can easily lose control or smash into someone else. And indeed, accidents occur much too frequently here. With a population of just 4 million people, this country has lost far too many lives to careless drivers. Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard story after story of horrendous driving accidents where the victims are often left dead or severely injured with little hope of recovery. And what’s worse, many of the responsible drivers are never brought to justice. It sickens and saddens me.
New Year’s Resolutions
Even though there have been some low days, overall I feel content with my time here in Croatia and I can’t wait to come back in January! I can feel many adventures awaiting me. And for my New Year’s resolutions, I plan to travel and relax more and ya know, the usual, exercise more. I think I can manage that, don’t you?
Zagreb from the plane
Today is my last night in Croatia before my three-week holiday break. And even though it feels like I’ve seriously been eating nonstop this past week (with Christmas cookies abounding at school and relatives pushing food on me at all stops during my brief time in Zagorje this weekend), I definitely plan to treat myself to all my favorite foods once I reach Michigan as a little self-congratulations for making it this far and a cheers to what the coming term has ahead.
So, ciao Rovinj, ciao Croatia. Vidimo se u novoj godini.
This past weekend (as well as the one two weeks ago) I was in Croatia’s lovely capital city and had a fantastic time.
On Friday, as the bus rolled away from Rovinj and across Croatia’s countryside I was amazed and so giddy about the sudden transformation I witnessed as the bus popped out from a mountainside tunnel. There was snow absolutely everywhere! Seeing snow for the first time this season stamped a permanent smile across my face for the rest of the bus ride. It was finally starting to feel like Christmas.
Entering Zagreb officially solidified my Christmas cheer as the entire city is beautifully decorated for the holiday. Something Christmas-y greets you on almost every corner in Zagreb. It’s absolutely fantastic.
Zagreb’s main square decorated for Christmas
And of course, since it’s Christmas time in Zagreb that means hot street beverages galore like scrumptious vruća jabuka (hot apple juice) and kuhanjo vino (cooked/mulled wine) and yummy street food like slow-roasted chestnuts and fritule. Stephanie was with me this weekend so we tried to experience Zagreb by its culinary offerings. On this trip, I tried vruća jabuka at Fast Food Bonita (which also has tofu burgers and other veggie foods—win!) and fritule from a street-side stand. Both were oh so good!
Fast Food Bonita
My fritule cup
Vruća jabuka & my empty fritule cup
While we drank up our toasty beverages from Bontia, a live band played a mixture of Croatian instrumental and jazz music, a perfect pairing for a winter’s morning.
Live band playing near Fast Food Bonita
We also ate at some wonderful restaurants like Leonardo, where we chowed down some mouthwatering pizza, and Stari Fijaker, where we stuffed ourselves with traditional Croatian cuisine like mlinci and sarma.
Sour cream & rukulo pizza from Leonardo
My meal at Stari Fijaker—vegetable steak (they also have veggie options! yay!) & mlinci
Stari Fijaker, by the way, probably has the best homemade bread I have ever tasted at any restaurant. I’d go to that place for the bread alone. Plus, the staff is so friendly and attentive! It was a fabulous dining experience.
Stari Fijaker restaurant sign
In addition to the delicious dinners and street food, Stephanie and I stopped twice at The Cookie Factory for some American-style dessert. I ordered an M&M chocolate chip cookie while Stephanie got a peanut butter one. Then, the second time around I got their strawberry lemonade. I’m a big fan of flavored lemonade and hadn’t had any since a Max & Erma’s visit back during the summer so it was a real treat to get some again. Two weeks prior, I was at The Cookie Factory for the first time with my cousin and ordered their signature brownie with vanilla ice cream on top. It was MmmMmm good.
The Cookie Factory’s signature brownie & ice cream
Stephanie and I also did lots of shopping. I got myself a lovely Christmas/New Year’s dress from H&M, that I’m really excited about, as well as a handmade ring and a load of Christmas presents for my family.
It was wonderful to see all the Christmas market stalls along Zagreb’s city center’s streets. I wish I had enough money and space to buy up all the handmade goodies! There were some beautifully designed handmade scarves I spotted just as Stephanie and I were about to leave the center so I think I might just have to stop by again before I leave for the holidays.
Thus far my weekends in Zagreb have been filled with wonderful treats and memories and I can’t wait to go back!
In the meantime, join in my Christmas cheer and take a little listen to one of my favorite Croatian Christmas songs, Božič Dolazi by Srebrna Krila.