What I learned on my Croatian Vacation

Vineyards are found throughout Croatia.

Vineyards are found throughout Croatia.

People are friendly in Croatia. Did I mention wines?

People are friendly in Croatia. Did I mention wines?

My wife and I were invited to join an international journalist team sponsored by Dhar Media in Zagreb, Croatia.  Our assignment was to help publicize to the world what Croatia has to offer as part of Dhar Media’s Discover Croatia web production while their video crew filmed the entire twenty-four day tour.  Like most of the team members, Florence and I knew almost nothing about Croatia other than its location.  Tourism is Croatia’s leading industry, and they want the rest of the world to discover their country.  Thus, with open minds and cameras ready, we set off for the capital city of Zagreb.

We were often offered something to eat on our tour.  This was not lunch, just a snack.

We were often offered something to eat on our tour. This was not lunch, just a snack.

I posted dozens of Instagram photos on Facebook as we traveled.  I have written about some of the special people we met and of the immense pride the people have for their country.  I continue to write about the treasures of Croatia’s National Parks.  I now wish to share some of the insights I gained from this travel adventure. 

I learned that there are a lot more swear words in Croatian than there are in English.  There are what – twelve words in English that will get you in trouble with your mother?  My friend Hrvoye said, “You English-speakers are like priests compared to the way Croatians talk.”  Croatian is a hard language to learn.  You may not know when someone is swearing, and a lot is lost in translation.

A choice of alcoholic beverages is optional.

A choice of alcoholic beverages is optional.

Lots of Croatians speak English.  It is taught in their schools starting in the first grade.  Lots of older folks speak German.  When I asked one of our guides why English is now taught instead of German, the explanation was straightforward.  He said, “We realized after World War II that English was going to be more important.”  I never found a place where someone in a shop or restaurant did not speak English.

Meals are served with wine and/or rakija as an option.

Meals are served with wine and/or rakija as an option.

I learned that Croatians love food and drink.  Croatia has vineyards scattered across the country, and their long tradition of winemaking produces both red and white wines which are remarkably good.  They also make grappa, a strong brandy distilled from grapes.  Also worthy of note is rakija (ROCK ee yah), a type of brandy which can be made of plum, grapes, figs or a mix of fruits and herbs.  Grappa or rakija is typically offered in a small glass before a meal or as a gesture of friendship or greeting.  I learned to always robustly shout “Živjeli!” (ZHEEV ya lee), meaning “Cheers!” as we tilt our glasses up and drink.  The cheering becomes more robust with each round if you do not stop at one drink, which reminds me of something else I learned.  Do not ever think you can out drink a Croatian.  You have been warned.

The prosciutto, cheeses and meats are all local and fresh cut.

A typical first course, the prosciutto, cheeses and meats are all local and fresh cut.

Then there is the food.  Mealtime is more than satisfying your hunger in Croatia.  Mealtime, whether lunch or dinner, is a time of gathering.  Do not spoil your appetite before lunch or dinner in Croatia.  Three courses are typical and five courses are not uncommon.  That does not include the artisan bread with local olive oil that accompanies each meal.  And do not even think of leaving the table in less than 1 ½ – 2 hours or people will wonder what your hurry is. 

The main course often includes several options of meats and vegetables.

The main course often includes several options of meats and vegetables.

Our guide in Dubrovnik, Anita, talked about the importance of mealtime.  She said, “The dining table is where we get together to share about our lives.  We laugh together because what is joy if we do not share it?  We cry together because it is sadder to cry alone.  This is how we share our lives.  This is what eating means to us.”  When she shared these words with me, I realized how much of the essence of living we Americans have given up by not spending more time together around the dinner table.   

ŽIVJELI!!

ŽIVJELI!!

Mostly, I learned to love Croatia.  The people are open.  The land is diverse and beautiful.  And, at least for now, Croatia is largely undiscovered and uncrowded.  If you wish to see Croatia before the world realizes its captivating appeal, do not wait too long. 

In the meantime, let me share some smiles from our Discover Croatia team:     

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16 comments on “What I learned on my Croatian Vacation

  1. dfrantz1953 says:

    Lovely post! My son studied abroad a couple of years back in Valencia, Spain and traveled with a bunch of girls all over Europe. One of the countries was Croatia. His photographs are amazing of Croatia. Ricky told me he would move there in a heartbeat!!! He loved the people and the food!

  2. Douglas E says:

    I spent last academic year with Pepperdine students in Heidelberg, and many visited Croatia and had nothing but good things to say about their travels there. Don’t know if we will make it there, but it would be high on the list for visiting in that part of the world.

    • Mike Lince says:

      I think Croatia is still under the radar of many tourists, especially Americans. Sooner or later though, the word is going to get out. It is a very hospitable country. There is much to see and do, and it is also a great place to relax and do very little. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Mike, great writing and descriptions, as usual. I have enjoyed following your exploits and adventures. Keep up the good work and Happy Traveling!

  4. What a wonderful post Mike! I love that most Croatians speak English – that will make it so much easier if we decide to travel there. I also love how they connect over long meals (sounds very Italian!). And you are so right that this is something we’ve lost in America. Of course, Paul and I sit down to dinner together every night and half the time we can’t think of anything to talk about – ha! Celeste :)

    • Mike Lince says:

      You are right about the Croatians’ mealtime gatherings seeming so Italian. There are other things that reminded us of Florence’s family’s lifestyle in Sicily, what with all the vineyards and olive groves and the homemade breads (and pizza).

      Another thing I learned was that the Croatians hate to be compared to Italians. They take such comparisons as an insult mainly because the Italians kept invading them. First it was the Romans. Then it was the Venetians (again and again). Then it was Mussolini. They don’t hate Italians. They just don’t like being compared to them. It is more like a major sports rivalry.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. :) – Mike

  5. reocochran says:

    I love to linger over meals, enjoying and savoring the flavors. As I linger over your posts, savor the moments shared and the people are such a wonderful part of your posts! I like the history, the photos, the foods, markets and most of all, the love poured out over the distance. You show us the beauty in international relationships. I am appreciative of the summary of your Croatian trip. I never expected such sunny photos and the wineries, too. I liked the countryside photographs, Florence! I don’t know why I did not picture Croatia in this way, now I have learned more about the world! Thank you!

    • Mike Lince says:

      Florence and I appreciate your comments, Robin. Thank you. Let me share one more thing with you that I guarantee will bring a smile to your face – Florence’s latest video from our time in Croatia, featuring the Discover Croatia team shown above or linked from here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv1A_bJekIs

      • reocochran says:

        I liked the personal touches, you with wine glass, you on a wall of interesting rocks, the beauty in your friendships made along the way, the interesting costume/dress of the Croatian woman with such intricate embroidery, also, the knights of Croatia, too. I am sure that I am leaving off some details, but you give us a great show, Florence! This is a wonderful gift and views of Croatia for us to share in!

  6. Great post Mike! I can see that Croatia got under your skin. Your descriptions of the people, food, and country are beautuful and certainly reflect our impressions, too. I love the whole thing about swearing – too funny. We didn’t pick up on that – all part of the subtlety! :) Thanks to you and Florence for showing us Croatia through your eyes. ~Terri

    • Mike Lince says:

      You said it – ‘Croatia got under our skin.’ I cannot explain it better than that. Perhaps it was the doors that were opened for us through being sponsored by a Croatian media team. We were definitely made to feel special much of the time during our visit. Other than that, just soaking in the beauty of the country made me realize why the Croats are so proud of their country. They have every reason to be! Thank you for your comments, Terri. I look forward to your next story. – Mike

  7. There’s probably no better phrase than “Croatian Vacation!”

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