(Good luck getting rid of us)
21.11.2015 - 25.11.2015
Whatever you are doing, drop it now and go to Croatia. It's just the best. Maybe I'm biased, because we are half Croatian and it is easy and delightful to connect with heritage here. Or maybe it is because the people are warmhearted and friendly, the food is excellent, the cities, villages and countryside are beautiful, and life has a wonderful pace here. Or maybe it is all of it. Picture Italy, throw in a bit of Hungary and rural Austria, and you have Croatia. But without the cost and crowds of most of the rest of the Mediterranean. For those of you who need help...(no judgement, I love maps)
Northern Croatia is quite chilly right now (who can believe it's December already), with light snow, and the heavy, heartwarming foods, clothes, etc. associated with Central/Eastern Europe. Southern and Coastal Croatia feel much more Mediterranean, with lighter food, and the architecture and landscape more closely associated with southern Italy or Greece. We started in the North, with just a 4 hour bus ride from Vienna (Lord it's good to be in Europe, where everything is so close together).
Siniša met us at the bus station in Zagreb. As a refresher from my 2013 blog, Siniša (SEE-NEE-sha) is the lovely husband of my wonderful cousin Dalia (like the flower). Dalia's grandfather and Gina's and my great-grandfather were brothers. That makes our father's mother (the one who passed away in Toronto), the first cousin of Dalia's dad. Are we all on the same page? There will be a test on this later. For now, let's just be satisfied that the term "cousin" covers all manner of relatives. Dalia Katavić is our cousin, her three children are our cousins, and her husband who generously drove to Zagreb to scoop us up is our cousin-in-law (aka cousin).
If Croatia had jobs and more opportunities I would seriously consider living here. Especially if I could live near the Katavić family. They are so much fun, and always happy (always! This is my third visit, so I am a witness). Klara is 19 and a freshman at a university in Zagreb now, where she is living in an apartment. She is soft spoken and beautiful, with long, light brown hair and the fashion sense of a Parisian model. Bruno is 17, 6.5" tall, a chemistry whiz and a sweetheart yet quite a ham. He and Klara compete in Karate on a global scale. Marta is 15, has more artistic talent in her little finger than I have in my whole being, with a dark brown bob and a mischievous smile. She is following in her sister's fashion footsteps yet is uniquely herself, and is always crafting something new. They are all tri-lingual, crazy smart, sweet, funny, and humble. I challenge you not to feel like a soggy mushroom next to cousins like this. Plus Dalia is also gorgeous and always bouncing off the walls, cooking elaborate meals from scratch without batting an eye, crafting something new for the house, making you feel like the most special person on earth, or devising a new global alternative source of fuel. My favorite thing about Siniša is that he always has a simple, wry comment for any discussion. He is just as hilarious as his son but in a much subtler way. He has that strapping Croatian look, with jet black hair and beautiful eyes. He loves big game hunting and faithfully takes his kids all over the world for karate championships. He was born and raised in Križevci (best way to can try to transcribe that is KREE-jhev-see), which is less than an hour from Zagreb, and where he took us from the bus station.
Their home was once the house that Siniša's parents built in the traditional Croatian style, but about 5 years ago Dalia and Siniša completely renovated the whole thing into a modern, airy home with tons of space and lots of heart. Križevci is a small city/large town of 10,000 people, but it has the meandering, warm feeling of a village. Most of the homes are the traditional boxy shape with clay roofs and stuccoed walls, and there is an unnaturally high ratio of churches. Siniša's family owns a series of shopping centers and cafes, and he manages the company with his father and brother.
We met them the next morning, when all the family came over to celebrate Klara's 19th birthday two days previous. To Dalia, hosting a lunch for 20 people is nothing, and she and Siniša didn't even break a sweat. He made an enough kotlovina ("food from cauldron", in this case chicken and the ever-present pork, in a sauce made from the breath of heaven) for an army outside, and she was whipping up heaps more food in the kitchen.
Such is life when you visit Croatians. As Agustina and Cecelia in Buenos Aires can confirm, as a guest, most of your time is spent eating. If you aren't eating, or at least drinking coffee, then something is wrong. There was kotlovina at the party as well as barbecued sausages and different kinds of meat, French salad, fresh salad, bean salad, potatoes, bread, and at least six different kinds of desserts.
It took Gina and me a day to recover, so Monday was spent lazing around---blogging, reading, and becoming one with our inner house cat. Tuesday we started shopping for our Thanksgiving craft projects, and attended a craft workshop in the evening with Dalia. Each Tuesday a local woman hosts a craft class in the loft of an old nightclub, and this week we made wooden angels that we coated in all manner of things.
Wednesday Dalia drove us to Varaždin for haircuts. It took us almost an hour from Križevci, but Dalia really believes in Tomislav's coiffure talents and anyways, she wanted to show us the city. Both Gina and I were slightly embarrassed as Tomislav tutted around each of us in turn, eyeing our rags of split ends. He had come back just that morning from Greece, where he won the Balkan championship in hairdressing. The reception desk even bore his golden trophy yet Gina and I were the first souks in his chair, wanting "just a trim." I wanted to tell him that a round-the-world budget doesn't accommodate much in the way of beautification, and we've been through the gamut of climates and physical challenges in the past six months. Instead I just sat there and winced as he marked my now decently long hair for execution, holding his fingers (what felt like) just below my earlobes. Gina had had a similar reaction as her long hair faced the axe. In the end poor, talented Tomislav wasn't satisfied with what we permitted him to lop off, yet Gina and I both left the small salon feeling shorn.
Varaždin is a lovely city--bigger than Križevci but still with that homey feel. We meandered the streets with Dalia before warming up with coffee and chestnut cake and heading home.