If I had to summarize my extended time in Croatia using just one word, I’d probably choose “glorious.” The days are indulgently long, with a gentle lavender-scented breeze bringing welcome reprieve from the persevering Adriatic sun. My daily stint at the beach features a panoramic stretch of impossibly crystalline water, framed by pine trees and mountains with the island of Brač in the near distance. We sit on our seaside terrace smartly shaded by an old fig tree, and even a task as mundane as brushing my teeth in the bathroom includes a view of a beautiful olive tree. The food we eat takes on the unique flavors of the local terroir – a favorite example is the sheep’s milk cheese from Pag delicately seasoned by the salt of the sea and a medley of aromatic herbs. Life in coastal Croatia is deliberately slow, allowing for a brand of relaxation foreign to most Americans. Inspiration comes easily and I mentally bottle it to slowly savor back in the Unites States, until I return again.
I’m Croatian-American: I was born in the States but both of my parents were born in Sinj, Croatia. Even though I get a little closer to mastering the Dalmatian pomalo philosophy of “take it slow; relax” with every month I stay, from time to time I still miss certain American conveniences.
1. Simple and Quick Errands
Recently, we stopped by a local bank where we’re customers to exchange foreign currency. But not so fast: we were told that in order to qualify for the best exchange rate reserved exclusively for customers, we’d need to update some records which would take a minimum of 30 minutes. This was after we already waited 30 minutes just to approach the counter. What about updating these records online? Nope, not a chance. Croatian bureaucracy can create many unexpected challenges. The solution includes regular trips to one’s local beach bar to let go of any lingering frustrations. Trust!
2. Endless Array of Choice
I’ve been eating yogurt every day since I could walk. Visit any Whole Foods in the States and you’ll be greeted with an enormous selection of yogurt, from Icelandic and Greek to coconut milk and soy-based. You can choose nonfat milk yogurt, 2%, or full fat. In smaller Croatian grocery stores, expect to find two brands and five flavors, max. I’m obsessed with the pistachio-flavored Greek yogurt I buy at our local Studenac, so manage your expectations and trust you’ll find something you love whether it’s yogurt or granola (and you’ll always pleasantly associate it with Croatia).
3. Complimentary Water at Restaurants
Many Croatian restaurants do not offer free water; you’ll have to purchase a bottle of flat or sparkling. And it isn’t inexpensive! I’m not embarrassed to be that person that always carries a bottle of water in her tote. After all, I make up for the lost revenue with a gemišt or two (white wine spritzers).
4. The “Customer is Always Right” Philosophy
The customer is not always right in Croatia. In fact, even if you are in the right, you may still receive a “so what?” Just last weekend, I ordered a tuna steak in Skradin which arrived with an intense fishy odor. I decided to put aside my doubt and tasted it anyway. The verdict? Inedible. I approached this delicately with the server who talked to the kitchen and insisted the tuna was indeed fresh. In the end, I still had to pay for it even though I left it 99% untouched. For me, this is a “move on and let it go” experience (with a mental bookmark to not visit that establishment again!). But the mussels pictured below? Life-changing in the best way possible.
5. The Convenience of Target/Walgreens/Amazon/Any Supermarket
Need some ibuprofen along with your local produce haul? No, it won’t happen during the same excursion in Croatia. You’ll need to visit a real pharmacy for even the most basic of over-the-counter meds and supplements. Anyway, you’ll find great pleasure in shopping for your produce at any of the fresh air markets despite the extra trip to the pharmacy (or do as I do, and bring all of your over-the-counter meds, vitamins and supplements with you).
6. The Uniform Chain Store Experience
You realize you need a new pair of strappy sandals after tearing up your former pair on slippery Istrian stone. You find out that there’s a Zara, Banana Republic, and Mango in a mall in Split, but your shopping excursion proves fruitless. What gives? You can expect that none of these chain stores will have the deep inventory you’ve come to rely on in the States. Personally, I try to shop local at home as often as possible and do my best to do the same whilst abroad. This means I do less shopping but when I do purchase new pieces, they’re high-quality and timeless. Your best bet is to discover local designers that you love – Instagram is a great platform for doing just that – and find out which boutiques carry their lines. Sure, you’ll spend a bit more but you’ll always treasure the Dalmatian boho-chic Kaviy Couture dress you purchased from LuLu & Brands in Šibenik or the olive wood cheese board from a domestic shop.
7. A Variety of Global Cuisine
Craving Ethiopian, Afghan, or Himalayan cuisine? No problem… if you’re in Chicago. Though I really enjoy the typical Dalmatian dishes centered around fresh fish and grilled meats, I do need a culinary shakeup every so often (my first craving for something other than Croatian food arrived 5 weeks in). Luckily, I can visit To Je Tako in Split and satisfy my craving for Mexican with tacos brilliantly served on housemade (gluten-free!) corn tortillas, or Silk in Korčula Town for Pan-Asian. Heaven! But Croatia is still catching up to the idea of global cuisine, so even making something as simple as Mexican food in your Airbnb can be tough without readily available spices, tortilla chips, and avocados.
8. An Array of Nightlife Options
Are wine bars your thing? Or perhaps a chill lounge specializing in champagne cocktails and downtempo electronica? Yes, you can find these types of establishments but they’re much fewer and farther in between. What you will find in quantity are clubs with either early-90s techno you hoped to never hear again or blaring turbo-folk. My advise? Just keep walking until you happen upon that charming, unassuming spot on an idyllic narrow street. I promise, you’ll find it.
Up next: 101 Things Americans Will Never Miss Whilst Visiting Croatia. It’s true, Croatians have living the good life down pat and they do it so effortlessly. Be prepared for the cultural differences and enjoy every moment!