April 15, 2020 – As people look for escape from the mental stress brought on by the corona crisis, a new series on TCN with local expats in isolation, looking back at their top 10 Croatia experiences so far. Nex up, TCN owner Paul Bradbury from Manchester in Jelsa.
I have had a LOT of emails and messages asking if TCN could write about something happier than the constant corona updates. I hear your pain, but with so much (sadly bad) news to report and limited resources due to the crisis, this is not so easy. But then I thought of a nice series which might perhaps pique people’s interests, focus on the happy stuff, and even unearth some hidden gems to explore at a later date.
Having done a very successful series with over 30 submissions from expats around the world on their self-isolation experiences in Croatia compared to what is happening in their home country, and then following that with a series on Croats in the diaspora with their corona viewpoint of their country of residence compared to the Homeland, perhaps a happier and more interesting series would be to look at expats here today and their top 10 experiences in Croatia so far.
Next up, me. I almost forgot to contribute to the self-isolation series, so I will write now while I have the time. It was a pleasant journey through 18 years of memories in this magnificent country, and narrowing it down to my top 10 Croatia experiences was not easy, but here they are.
If would like to contribute to this series, contact us on [email protected] Subject Top 10.
Za Krizen (Behind the Cross) Holy Week Procession in Jelsa on Hvar.
Of all the places I have visited and lived in, I don’t think I have ever come across a tradition which is such an integrated part of a community as Za Krizen in Jelsa. The annual procession, which has taken place for over 500 years each Maundy Thursday at 22:00 through the night until 07:00 is a unique and magical experience which I have been fortunate enough to observe for many years now. The procession aside, the whole atmosphere in Jelsa over Easter is one of joy, as the island awakes from its winter slumber, and extended families return to celebrate the religiously important Easter weekend.
This year’s za Krizen was very different, of course, due to the corona crisis, and it was a VERY strange feeling after all these years to find myself the only person on the main square as the procession began. You can learn more about my first-hand account of this year’s procession here, as well as checking out past Za Krizen processions in this dedicated TCN section. The video above shows the final moments of Za Krizen 2020 in Jelsa.
Sveti Vlaho (the Feast of St Blaise) in Dubrovnik
When is the best time to visit Dubrovnik? I have been at various times over the years, but nothing came close to the first week of February and the Feast of St Blaise (Sv Vlaho), the much-loved patron saint of the city. Similar to Za Krizen, it is a time when the wider local community comes together in family celebration, the locals reclaim the city from tourists, and with most restaurants closed and their awnings, tables and chairs in storage, the old town is stripped back to its bare stone. Throw in the wonderful traditions of Sveti Vlaho, and you have all the ingredients for an unforgettable experience. Here was mine in February 2017.
The opening party of Rijeka 2020
From traditional gatherings to cultural celebrations of the present day. While corona has decimated the cultural programme of Rijeka 2020 as the European Capital of Culture, the opening party of February 2, 2020 was an event which had everything. It was a privilege to have press access to the main action, as well as my local British expat Martin, who kept me going until 6 am, when I then ended up sleeping in the car, something I have not done for years. You can get more of a flavour of the opening night of Rijeka 2020 in this in-depth TCN feature story.
(Karin Mimica in among with vines with Slovenian travel legend, Drago Bulc)
ANY excursion organised by Karin Mimica from Gastronaut
If I had to name one person who had introduced me to the lesser-known parts of Croatia in the best possible manner, there would be only one name that came even close – the fabulous Karin Mimica from Gastronaut. There is not a quality restaurateur or winemaker in the country who Karin does not know personally, and her Gastronaut foodie tours for journalists, restaurateurs, winemakers and gourmet lovers are superbly organised, extremely content-rich, executed with precision, and always featuring the very best of the best of the destination. I first went a Gastronaut tour on my own island of Hvar several years ago. Since then, I have been part of the Gastronaut team which has discovered Murter, Krk (twice), Pag, Medjimurje, Ozalj, Koprivnica, Djurdjevac, to name but a few. You can visit a few of those past trips here, and connect with Karin via her Gastronaut page.
Festa Days on the uninhabited Kornati island of Zut
Imagine opening a restaurant in the middle of a war on an uninhabited island with no water, electricity or ferry connection. Come back 25 years to witness a Silver Jubilee of that restaurant with five of Croatia’s top chefs and five international Michelin Star chefs.
The incredible story of Restaurant Festa and Festa Days on Zut. It was a privilege to be there.
Vukovar Remembrance Day Parade and a Weekend in Slavonia
For many years, the subject of Vukovar was a taboo one for me as a foreigner. A very raw, open wound on the Croatian psyche. But the longer I lived here, and the more I began to understand about Croatia, the more I realised that the annual remembrance day was dominated by politics, and there was actually very little information about what happens during the actual parade, especially in English. I decided to go and take part. It was a very powerful and emotional day, but also one which helped me to understand Croatia much better.
The Vukovar visit was one of several to eastern Croatia last year. A wonderful, wonderful region, with so much to see and do. It was also the location for perhaps our best family weekend away. This is how much family fun you can pack into one weekend in Slavonia in late-October.
Winning the Marco Polo 2014 FIJET Award at the Association of Croatian Journalists
The last time I won anything prior to December, 2014 was back in 1978 when I won the Under-9 category in the regional chess championships in the county of Surrey in the UK.
And so it was a huge surprise and honour to win the 2014 FIJET Marco Polo Award at the National Society of Journalists for the best international promotion of Croatia. Thank you, colleagues!
The island of Brac beyond Zlatni Rat – Dragon’s Cave, Puscica Stonemason School, Olive Oil Museum in Skrip
Living on an island as gorgeous as Hvar, why would you go anywhere else? And I didn’t. For years.
Even though Brac was only 25 minutes away by catamaran, I never really felt the need to go. And then I went. WOW.
Forget Zlatni Rat beach, Brac has some incredible stuff. Three not to miss which I managed to catch in one weekend are the unbelievable Dragon’s Cave (visited by just 1,000 people a year), the incredible stonemason school in Puscica, and the unbelievably authentic olive oil in Skrip. And this is just scratching the surface of the unique treasures of Brac.
Lazy afternoons on the Lesic Dimitri Palace terrace with Michael
But if I was to be marooned for eternity in one location in Croatia, it would undoubtedly be on the terrace of one of my favourite places in the world – the waterfront terrace of luxury boutique hotel, Lesic Dimitri Palace, sipping on a glass of something fine and listening to the yarns of owner Michael Unsworth, the gentle Maestral breeze bringing a constant relief from the summer heat. One of the great discoveries of my life a few years ago, and part of the inspiration for Exquisite Korcula, Blueprint for Quality Croatian Tourism as It Should Be.
There are so many places to include, but it would be remiss of me not to include the birthplace of Total Hvar, and the rock of the whole TCN project for many years. The Office, aka Caffe Splendid on the main square in Jelsa.
“That’s where Daddy lives, when he is not home with us,” my 3-year-old daughter informed my punica as they walked past one day. Captain Nijazi, I salute you.
The Bench and the old library in Jelsa
And as a bonus, of course, the best view in the world – or at least it was until it was evicted – the famous Jelsa Bench. And in the building behind, the former library, where 18 years ago I entered to find an assistant librarian with eyes the colour of the Adriatic. The rest, they say, is history.
My top 10 Croatia experiences among many top experiences. Here are 30 more from last year alone.
Are you an expat in Croatia with a little time on your hands and some fabulous memories and experiences to share? If you would like to participate in this series, please contact us at [email protected] Subject Top 10.
To see the other stories in this series, as well as expat self-isolation stories compared to their home countries, and corona voices in the diaspora, visit the dedicated section.