We have been in Croatia for two full weeks now, and I’d say we’ve settled in very well. We’ve gotten to know the area and have explored a number of towns on the Istra Peninsula. We know where to find everything we need and even have certain brands of Croatian products we prefer. The great thing about Croatia is that almost everyone speaks a little English and will immediately switch to it as soon as they hear us talking. In fact, I like taking one or more of the girls with me to the grocery because I don’t have to do the whole “smile-and-shrug” routine when the checkout clerk starts speaking to me in Croatian. I just start talking to kids in the checkout line and as soon as the clerk hears us we’re good to go.
Croatia is a beautiful and interesting place. Growing up, the only time I heard about the country was during the Bosnian War in the 90s. Being a teenager during those years, I was a little oblivious to it all and only saw news coverage flip across the TV screen as I clicked through the channels to MTV. Since we’ve been here I’ve read a couple books about Croatia and its history. It’s a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking chronology involving large ruling empires, periods of great prosperity, droughts, pirates, world conflicts, and a bloody civil war.
However, the evidence of this tumultuous history is found only in the ancient temples, colosseums, and musems found throughout Croatia. The people and culture are friendly and welcoming, and the country seems to be in its prime. It’s extremely safe and inexpensive. The prices are a pleasant surprise after being in more expensive parts of Europe. I can get a large load of groceries for under 300 Kuna ($50) and taking the whole family out for a nice dinner costs about 200 Kuna ($35). The girls favorite part of the local economy is the fact that all ice cream cones everywhere cost just 6 Kuna ($1). The weather is also perfect here. We’ve had days in the upper 70s and low 80s, and then the nights cool off to comfortable sleeping temps.
The flora and fauna are unique and abundant. Olive trees, fruit trees and Mediterranean cypress are everywhere. The people’s connection to the land is apparent in the common practices of planting gardens, growing fruit trees and making their own wine. One of my favorite things here is the use of grapevines as shelters. Everywhere we go we see grapevines that have been carefully manicured to grow up along metal structures, creating natural carports, gazebos or covered walkways. The one at our house has become my favorite spot ever for practicing yoga.
We’ve explored a lot of this region in a short time. The Istra (Istria) peninsula is located in the northwestern area of Croatia. It’s only about 50 kilometers across at its widest point, so we can drive to most towns around the region in under an hour. The coasts of the peninsula are lined with white pebble beaches. The undulating hills of the inland areas make for some fun (albeit sometimes queasy) driving.
Our temporary hometown of Labin is just 5 minutes from the coastal resort village of Rabac, which we have frequented many times while we’ve been here. The beaches there get a bit crowded, but the easy access to extremely affordable food, ice cream, and adult beverages makes it an attractive option for a quick trip down to the shore.
The city of Pula is situated down on the southern tip of the peninsula. The Roman arena is still used for events and concerts, and a number of ancient structures have been maintained as museums and functional civic buildings.
One day we took a drive up the coast to Rijeka and its neighboring resort town of Opatija. It had a nice pedestrian plaza and walkways along the sea.
The highlight of our tour around the peninsula was definitely Rovinj, which sits on the western coast. The stones of the ancient, narrow streets are polished to a sheen from centuries of use. The old buildings meet the water’s edge, reminiscent of the canal streets in Venice. We stopped to cool off in one of the many swimming areas developed along the cliffs and then wandered through the marina packed with boats.
The only drawback to our time in Rovinj was the tire boot we found on our car at the end of the day. In seeing our French license plates, the parking officer clearly wanted to make sure we paid the ticket before skipping the country. A friendly fellow ticket recipient was kind enough to call the required phone number for us. Ten minutes later we had paid our 80 Kuna fine and were on our way home. Even getting a citation is cheap and easy here!
We love Croatia and wish we’d planned to spend more than just a month here. It’s going to be hard to leave, but we still have more than two weeks left. We are going to do our best to make the most of them!
***If you visit Croatia and you like historical novels, I highly recommend the book Winds of Dalmatia by Tanja Tuma. It does a beautiful job of drawing a picture of life in Croatia from ancient times to modern day. Reading it before you come will tie the landmarks you’ll see to the periods in which they were created.