I spent about ten days in Croatia. I stayed with my great uncle, aunt and my cousin Mia in Zagreb. Unfortunately (for me), my cousin Matea was in New York when I arrived in Croatia, and returned home the day after I left. The first day, I met my great aunt and then Mia took me to what is considered old town Zagreb. I found plenty of gorgeous old architecture, and a plaza that had a farmers market as well as traditional linens and other items for sale. As we walked around, Mia explained that cafes and restaurants in that part of town are the most popular, and during the week I was there in September, the outdoor cafes were packed.
She also explained that westernization had already occurred in Croatia. I was struck by how many restaurants and stores had English names, and most store were European or American chain stores, in fact, the only Croatian store I found was a bookstore that stocked a ton of books in English, yet, not one Croatian author in English. Mia also told me that most of the younger generation spoke English or a blend of English and Croatian, which made conversing a little easier for me, but also made me sad. I suppose I had a romanticized notion about the culture that I would find in Croatia — a connection to my family and the past. I found it, but more through the stories my family told me as opposed to what I actually experienced.
Later that day, I met my uncle. The last photo I had seen of him was at least twenty-years old and when I first saw him I had the shock of my life, he looks exactly like my grandfather did about fifteen years ago. He and my father also look very similar; the gene pool from that side of the family is apparently pretty strong.
Mia and her boyfriend Kreso took me out to show me nightlife in Zagreb, it was a good time, especially the homemade honey liquor that Kreso insisted I try. It was yumm-o, but packs a wallop. They also took me to their favorite Croatian-Mexican restaurant, which was fantastic. When we sat down the host asked my cousin something that made her laugh. After she responded, she translated for me. He had asked when the furniture would be back, referring to my other cousin and her friends who spend a lot of time there. Mia said they had temporarily swapped Matea for me. It was pretty funny, and a nice glimpse into their lives. FYI – my cousins are in their mid-twenty’s, extremely intelligent and very kind.
Mia also took me to Zagreb’s ethnographic museum, which has roughly 80,000 items of Croatian heritage, including folk costumes, popular arts and crafts, and a representative selection of Croatian national costumes. They had scenes of what houses and meals would have looked liked pre-urbanization. Some of the traditional women’s costumes were very ornate, with gorgeous Konavle jewelry. I was completely taken by a style of earrings specific to my heritage, and later, Mia helped me find gorgeous replicas to take home with me…
We also visited the Mirogoj Cemetery, which is considered one of the best cemeteries in Europe, and is where politicians and famous artists are buried.
It’s really gorgeous, very old ornate architecture and family plots. I love the history of cemeteries; I find it fascinating how people celebrate the dead in different cultures, throughout time.
Before I left the states, Mia and I had had a skype date to plan my Croatian excursion. She said she would take care of the arrangements and plan a trip full of what I wanted to see, as well as what she thought we should see with my limited time. So, after a few days in Zagreb, Mia, Kreso and I loaded up the car and headed to the coast…
Next up, the Croatian coast.