Surviving Solo in Croatia: Adventures of a British Expat in Rijeka

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We are delighted to welcome Dora to Total Croatia News. A recent arrival to Rijeka on a one-way ticket, first impressions and lessons in survival on October 15, 2017.

Up until four weeks prior to boarding my one-way flight to Rijeka, I had never paid any attention to Croatia. It was not on my radar at all. Being a single restless millennial with a thirst for travel and an inability to plan further than what I should have for dinner, I applied for a job in Rijeka. My decision-making process looked like this: Oh my god, Croatia! Oh my god, a job! Oh my god, theatre! Then I saw the salary and became a lot less excited, but thought f**k it, I’m off – the Balkans are calling!

It just so happened I arrived on the 9th of September, the beginning of an incredibly dramatic 10-day rainfall in which I thought the world was about to end. I had never seen anything like it. Britain looked like a serene tropical island in comparison and part of me thought what the f**k have I done? I am not a quitter and understood the 1st month after moving to an unknown country would be the hardest, so I had to keep reminding myself I wasn’t working in a diamond mine or imprisoned in Guantanamo bay, and actually had been provided with an incredible apartment. When I saw my accommodation located in an Austro-Hungarian building with high ceilings that overlooked the market and the Croatian National Theatre, I thought yes please, this will do me nicely. I am now a sophisticated woman of the world in a lovely apartment of my own, where I can dance naked and leave my socks around with reckless abandon.

My first thought was I need to tackle the market. The market in Rijeka appears to be the epicentre of all activity and some of the people working there appear to have been selling vegetables since the Roman times. There is nothing like this market in England and I thought, bloody hell, I need to cook something delicious in my incredible new apartment. When possible, always be naked apart from when deep frying. Being English naturally I do not know any other languages and have only these 3 moves to get me by: I can say ‘bok’, I’m very good at pointing and I have a manic smile that reads ‘Hi I’m English I’m completely ignorant but harmless. I promise I won’t hurt you or your family.’ Out of the three things, I find the last one is most helpful when travelling the world. Pointing is a close second. Armed with my 3 things, I attempted to buy something. I squeezed in between two old women and said ‘bok’ pointed at the first thing I saw and smiled. Yes! I finally got the Croatian man’s attention. Yes! I was buying something. Yes! It was happening! He was bagging green stuff in a bag. Woah, that’s a lot of green stuff, I thought, but I continued to smile and he continued giving me green stuff. I did think about what the hell I was buying, but continued smiling, always smiling. The result of my nervous shopping trip? 1 kg of Swiss chard. Prior to visiting Rijeka I had never eaten Swiss chard; the result of my market trip was that I ate it solidly for a week. Muesli with Swiss chard. Cheese and Swiss chard. A glass of water and Swiss chard. I’m considering writing a recipe book called “Swiss chard and me.” A new apartment and a diet of Swiss chard, I could feel myself slowly turning into the woman I had always wanted to be.


The rain eventually stopped, the sun came out, and I am starting to adjust to the Rijeka way of life. The stinky canal. The seagull-vs-pigeon fights to the death in the national theatre garden. It doesn’t feel like a day in Rijeka if I don’t see at least one dead, massacred bird. It’s slowly starting to feel like home. Humble observations about the way of life include: you aren’t really meant to do any work here. Or at least don’t look like you’re doing any work, as it’s not very fashionable to be seen doing a job. To be a true Rijeka citizen you must be engaged in an intense conversation whilst smoking and drinking coffee around 11am til past noon – ideally, you will then leave that long conversation, aim to head for ‘work’, then bump into someone else you know and start the whole intense coffee & smoking process again. It is an endless cycle of coffee and conversations, in between which you will definitely climb some stairs. I suspect everyone here has thighs that could crack walnuts based on all the stairs one has to climb. It’s definitely a good thing that manoeuvring yourself round the city forces one to exercise, as everyone would be obese otherwise: the diet of burek, beer and cigarettes is enough to induce an early heart attack.

My favourite activity that I enjoy doing is getting takeaway coffee for 4 kuna (unbelievably cheap) from the indoor market and sitting in park near the theatre, watching people. I have noticed in my short time here that Croatians love a good gossip and are very sociable. As someone that also enjoys a good gossip, I feel I miss being able to chat to the people at the market and in the garden. A very sweet Croatian man came over to me as I was waiting by the bus stop the other day, starting a conversation. I was all ready to say I couldn’t speak Croatian when I realised he was warning me to not lean on the post, as I was about to get shit on by a hoard of pigeons. I immediately liked this man who was concerned whether I got shit on that day, and I managed to da, da, da my way through the conversation. It was all lovely until it came to a point when I had to reveal my true identity as a non-Croatian speaker; he looked disappointed and so was I, and it made me realise connecting with people will be hard. But I have my 3 signature moves, and hopefully I will learn some bloody Croatian along the way. I can already say ‘ja sam živa’ (I’m alive), which I have found essential in day to day use.


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