First impressions of Croatia

I can’t believe we’ve been in Croatia already 5 days! This country was high on my list of travel destinations, and wow it hasn’t disappointed in the least! I’m blown away by almost everything we’ve experienced (not all, see below for the bad stuff!).

The cycling: Croatia has an extensive system of bike trails, especially in the Istrian peninsula, where there are converted railways, marked paths through national parks, and many dedicated bike lanes near beaches and tourist areas. Many of them are unpaved, so we are thankful for our gravel bikes and lightweight touring setup. With our newly installed Schwalbe Marathon tires, we’ve only had to walk the bikes a handful on times on really rough paths where the stone from the old rail line hasn’t been cleared and on some old stone cobble roads. Otherwise we’ve been riding cyclocross style to the amusement of the other riders with full-suspensious mountain bikes.

The food and drink: It’s hard to compete with France and Italy, but when Croatia does food its own way, it’s damned good! With an abundance of truffles, fresh fish, pork products, and wild asparagus and mushrooms, we’ve enjoyed a few really nice meals. My favorite meal was at a family restaurant (konoba) in a tiny town next to our Mini Kamp. It’s a place that doesn’t exist according to Google Maps, and the menu hasn’t changed in decades: grilled pork sausage and/or cutlet with fresh salad, with a starter of a plate of home made prosciutto, pork neck sausage, and goat cheese. You sit down around 6-7pm and wait for the 75 year old friendly Italian-speaking owner to start the fire, while tasting some of the family made wine (unfiltered and delicious) and prosciutto in the meantime. Once the fire is going maybe an hour later, her son comes around and takes orders, but he only speaks German, so you have to be able to order with hand gestures or just take what you get. He lays an imaculately clean (but holey) tablecloth over the bug-infested table, and then brings your delicious meal. It’s simple home cooking but tastes amazing.

Some photos of other meals:

Pasta with shaved truffles.

Grilled brancin (sea bass) below, prosciutto stuffed calamari and boiled potatoes above.

Fresh pasta with wild asparagus and cured pork.

Donkey (!!) stew. It wasn’t tough, tender like beef. It could have been a translation error by the waitress, but she spoke really good English, so I don’t think so…

Digestifs have commonly been offered to us after meals, and they’ve been quite tasty, often described as schnapps or grappa, though they’ve always had different tastes.

The people:

The Croatians we’ve met have overall been super friendly and happy! Our favorite experiences have been the random encounters like when we stopped at a local pastry stand in the country side on our bikes. Lots of people were stopping but were the only ones not from Croatia. A gentleman ordering some bread tried to guess where we were from Germany, France, England? America, we said, to which he responded with a smile and then a grimace, “Oh, America!! … but Trump?! Melania, okay, we like.” (Melania is from the neighboring Slovenia.) After that, we bought some pastries, and the woman at the stand helped us to practice our Hrvatski (Croatian).

The 3-legged kitty at our campground. Our campground host is variously from Croatia, Italy, and Australia, and he rescued this little guy with a mangled leg and had his leg properly amputated. He runs and chases the other kitties in the yard.

The tourists:

Okay, so here is the bad part. It’s sad to see Croatia in the midst of losing some of itself just to serve the tourists here. There are stupid huge campgrounds (marketed as “camping resorts”) on the coast with thousands of people, many from nearby Germany, Italy, and Austria, all demanding their schnitzel and pasta that they can get back home. And of course these resorts oblige with ridiculously expensive bad versions of these items. We could be anywhere in the world at these places, all the Croatian is stripped away except for the perfunctory “Istrian cuisine” section on the menu. We made the mistake to stay at one of these resorts one night, and it cost more than an apartment rental, and we spent the night camped next to a group of 20 German teenagers on a weekend trip.

And, come on Germans with your electric bikes… I don’t think they work because we’ve passed all of you. And not to be judgmental, but I think for your health, you’d be better off burning the calories instead of coasting along, clogging up the bike lanes.

That said, except in the really touristy areas where we’ve been hassled to come into overpriced restaurants (I was proud to be called “Jewish” by one woman after I refused to pay 2x the going rate for a beer at one place), the Croatians generally seem to take all this tourist madness in stride, and thankfully they put up with our ridiculousness, riding our bicycles through their country.

The scenery:

What can I say, I just want to sit and enjoy the views here for a year or two, maybe more… Stunning! Photos are inadequate, but I’ll share some anyway.

4 Replies to “First impressions of Croatia”

  1. It looks wonderful…let’s face it everyone is trying to attract tourists. It is an issue everywhere. But the scenery is spectacular…if I can get Tokyo out of my head I may add this to my list.

    You both look wonderful.
    Love your posts.

  2. Ahh tim & steve. I am so jealous. The wonderful sights and exchanges with the local prople! Ahh but, more the local foods in each area of the Continent.
    Oh wait ! Not the biking part ;).
    But the history and beauty¡! I live a little better each day as i read your posts and view the sights. Keep biking my friend! Your adventure is what dreams are truly made of.
    Omg did i really just end that sentence in a preposition?!

    Have a good laff, a great apertif for me. Remember to smell the joy in the air. Drink the
    wines of the people and spread the love of life in the left lane.

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