I’ve been reflecting a lot on my time spent in Croatia, from visiting every summer from California growing up to finally moving here in 2015. And the two worlds couldn’t be more different.
My homeland, where my parents were born, always carried a sense of wonder – a sense of escape. And moving here by accident in 2015 has allowed me to dive deep into the country of my roots – witnessing the ins and out of a country I now know better than America, where I was born and raised.
While there are too many memorable moments to recap over the last few decades, some, in particular, hold a special place in my heart.
Croatia in 1996
I recently wrote about my memories of Croatia in 1996, the first time I visited the country at just five years old. It was my first time outside of America, my first time meeting many of my foreign family members, and the first real family vacation I took with my parents and older brother. It was an exploration of a new place, one that had just seen war, and a journey through a culture I only knew then in my Croatian-Californian confines. It was an eye-opening adventure through familiar yet new flavors, navigating a language I had hardly spoken, and how those little things don’t matter when surrounded by fresh faces with the same bloodline. Croatia in 1996 was likely not the best time to visit, as blown-out tanks decorated the highways and the image of war was still raw – but it certainly paved my love for the homeland I had known until then only through my grandmother’s lullabies.
Weddings in Metković
Croatian weddings are unique, but weddings in Metković are extra. I had my first Croatian wedding experience in 2004 when my uncle and his longtime partner tied the knot. Considering I was staying at their family home that summer, I was involved in every part of the Croatian wedding experience, including the traditionally male-only bachelor’s party (er, fešta), complete with an endless flow of Karlovačko kegs. Croatian weddings are an all-day event, which starts early in the day at the groom’s family home, then over to the bride’s home, then to the church, then back to one of their homes, before a caravan of cars drives to the reception venue, where you’ll continue eating, drinking, and dancing until 6 am (don’t worry, you’ve already been going since noon). A marathon event I first learned about at 14 – Metković weddings are the best.
First summer on Hvar in 2007
It was surprising I hadn’t visited the island until 2007, considering that my grandmother is from Stari Grad and my extended Croatian-Californian family never missed a summer in Hvar town. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t visit Hvar until my teenage years – and that first visit included my best friend from California. Taxi boat, beach, eat, party, sleep, repeat was the routine that started that summer on Hvar and lasted until the visits in my early 20s. From Kiva Bar and Nautika to former nightclub Veneranda and watching the sunrise from our apartment balcony. It was teenage bliss. Summer on Hvar looks a bit different now, but I wouldn’t trade Hvar’s nightlife in 2007 for anything.
Sailing the Adriatic Coast
The first time I properly sailed the Adriatic was in 2018, hosting a group of 35 Americans on a luxury yacht for a week from Trogir to Dubrovnik. I had sailed between islands before, but never in one shot or one-week-long journey – which is something I believe everyone in Croatia should experience. We sailed from Trogir to Pučišća on Brač, from Brač to Hvar, Hvar to Korčula, and finally to Mljet and Dubrovnik, exploring the magic of each island, cave, cove, and bay in between. Seeing the Adriatic Coast from this perspective cannot be compared to day trips or short visits – it’s an all-encompassing experience of the Adriatic, its beauty, culture, cuisine, and customs, with no room to escape. Sailing allows you to embrace every aspect of the country – and when it’s as amazing as Croatia, you’ll want to dive straight in.
World Cup 2018
I recently published about the realities of being a female football journalist in Croatia and mentioned that even with Croatia making it to the 2018 World Cup final in Russia, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere but Split or Croatia during that tournament. One of those things you never think you’ll get to experience in your lifetime, especially when it seemed like that 1998 bronze medal would be our most significant achievement. From Nigeria to start and France in the final, Croatia was electric that summer – a nation united. I get chills thinking back to those nail-biting finishes, watching them from the fan zone in Split’s Dardin Park. There were endless screams, tears, hugs, disbelief, and WTF moments. And countless celebrations. Croatia, that summer of 2018, was magic.
Anything at Poljud Stadium
Literally, anything. And I’ve got to see a lot of games since moving here in 2015. While any Croatian derby is a must, you won’t be able to compare watching Hajduk play Dinamo in Split, and you can always expect a sold-out crowd. European games are the only games that come close, and watching Wayne Rooney’s Everton at Poljud was extra special. I can’t wait to see what it will be like against Villarreal. And then there was the Croatian Cup, which Hajduk won for the first time since 2013, resulting in beautiful chaos on the pitch and into a party that was carried onto the Riva. And let’s not forget the Croatia national team’s return to Poljud, hosting Portugal and France in the last few years and beating Russia for a spot in the 2022 World Cup. If you have a chance to go to Poljud, no matter the match, don’t miss the chance.
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