Croatia – a country that hadn’t been on my radar three years ago. But when a blogger I follow announced she was moving to the country’s capital, it entered my atmosphere. She described it as coastal yet mountainous, filled with luscious national parks and clear-water beaches. At this I questioned, “Where is Croatia on the map?” To my shock, it was right next to the Italy I’d visited several times.
Through this blogger, I learned that set against Croatia’s beauty is a recent history is one of turmoil and pain, brother against brother kind of conflict. In central Croatia, you see some of the effects of the Yugoslavian War – abandoned buildings, bullet holes in walls. If you have a few minutes, read up on the history of Croatia/Yugoslavia. While the recent war is at the forefront of our minds, with Serbia as the bad guy, further inspection shows decades of conflict, with each country (Croatia and Serbia) inflicting harm on one another, seeing their actions as justified retaliations. There really is no innocent party. But thankfully, the region is largely recovered from the devastation of war.
I experienced various areas of Croatia: the Dalmatian Coast, Plitvice Lakes National Park, and Zagreb. Each area had unique qualities, unique things it taught me. For the specific travel bits, I’ve made note of the area it originated – otherwise, the theme applies to all of this beautiful country!
1. Leave room for adventure. (Dalmatian Coast)
While on the island of Korcula, we biked, boated, paddleboarded and kayaked. Each time, we approached whoever we were renting from with a time frame in mind.
“We think we’re going to rent bikes for two hours,” we’d say.
“Keep them out as long as you’d long!” they’d respond, “Just pay when you return.”
It seemed like a little thing, but these Croatians were subtly encouraging us to release our time expectations, our scheduled itinerary, and see where our adventure would take us. Taking note from the coastal natives, I’m reminded to set aside the map and the clock the next time I set out.
2. Don’t miss the opportunity to slow down and spend a couple hours with your buddies over a cup of coffee on a Wednesday afternoon.
Croatians are laid back – not lazy, but relaxed in their approach to life.
The coffee culture in the country (especially in Zagreb) is more of a café culture. For one, no one orders coffee to go. Instead, they sit down outside of a café, watch the world walk by while chatting with a friend.
I fell in love with Zagreb, with its pedestrian city center and restaurants pouring in the streets with café tables and umbrellas. At any time of the day, you’d find locals sitting outside with friends, talking over a cup of coffee, maybe a pastry as well. Another thing to note: you pay after you receive your drink, whether you’re at café in Dubrovnik or at a hipster coffee shop in Zagreb. In my mind, this furthers the idea of slowing down. I’ve noticed this ism across Europe: the rush in American coffee shops is noticeably absent, as well as people coming alone.
A takeaway? Always make time for a cup of coffee and a person, and enjoy it – don’t be looking at the clock or rushing off to the next thing.
3. Bulk bins are always a good idea
I, for one, am a huge fan of bulk bins. Just pick your treat, at any size. And turns out, Croatians love them just as much as I do – every grocery store, from the high-end organic to the cheap supermarket, featured one. It’s a little thing, but one I loved.
4. Find your “fruit” and celebrate it.
In the several markets we visited, there were an abundance of cherries. Granted, there were a variety of berries as well, but cherries of every variety stole the show. We ate our fair share, and I walked away reminded that we ought to celebrate and embrace our “fruit,” our giftings unique to us.
5. Zagreb has style (Zagreb)
When I tell people that Zagreb was one of the most stylish cities I visited, they’re surprised. The capital has a population of 790,000 – tiny compared to most capitals! Yet its citizens stood out to me in their classic style, wearing simple, yet refined, basics. Often the women wore dresses and skirts that were modest and long/mid-length, showing that modest is often more chic.
Also, Zagrebians know that good shoes are everything; a majority of women I saw wore some form of athleisure shoes: Nikes, Adidas, Converse, etc.
6. Green space on its own is not enough. (Zagreb)
I judge a city by its amount of green space – usually, the more beautiful cities have more green space! Zagreb’s parks rotated between perfectly manicured with every flower in place to organic ones with weeping willows and blooming bushes. Regardless of the landscaping, Zagreb nurtured and cultivated areas with intentionality, creating an atmosphere of green beauty, when they could have just had an overgrown lot.