Travelling to Croatia
I have been travelling to Croatia on vacation for the last 4 years and have to say, it is just about the perfect vacation destination. Croatia has beautiful beaches on the Adriatic Sea, crystal clear calm water, wonderful, helpful people, delicious, inexpensive food and very nice accommodations. Another reason to love Croatia is most Croats speak English so it’s easy for Americans to get around. Just about everybody under 60 years old speaks English including every waiter and every bartender and everybody working in the many excellent shops.
But learn a few words before you go, Croats love that. And they love correcting your pronunciation.
Hello – Dobar dan (pronounced dober don)
Good Evening – Dobra vecer (pronounced dobra vechay)
Good Morning – Dobro Jutro (pronounced dobro yutro….wrong! but that is as close as I can get)
Thank you – Hvala (try saying this with no H sound first and then work in the h later)
Excuse me – Oprosti
Go for as long as you can!
You should not go for less than 2 weeks, the longer you stay, the better and here’s why…
It takes a while to get there and the first day you’ll have jet lag. Which doesn’t matter to your Croatian in laws who want to take you out for a coffee or a drink as soon as you arrive. Grin and bear it. You might be mistaken for a zombie that first day but after a good night’s sleep, you will be good to go.
In order to really enjoy your vacation and relax a bit, you should go for 3 weeks. Take the first week to just calm down. You’ve been working your tail off all year and you really need a vacation. Everybody just calm down! The second week is bliss and you finally relax before the 3rd week comes and you start thinking about going back to work. AHHHHH!!! But if you are like me and live in the USA, you probably are lucky if you can get off 2 weeks in a row. By the way, Croats will think you are crazy for taking just 2 weeks vacation. “Only 2 weeks? Ti si idiot!” Try to stretch it out and ask for two weeks and two days so you have a couple extra days for travelling.
Go for the weather, the beaches and the food
The best weather in Croatia comes in July and August. This is high tourist season and I suggest you book as early as possible. February is a great time to book your trip but you can get fairly well priced flights after February as well.
I mentioned the beaches are wonderful, and they are, but don’t expect to find any sand. The beaches are rocky. Some beaches have small pebbly rocks and some have big boulders but don’t fret as even the boulder and concrete beaches have ladders to climb down, just like in swimming pools. The water temperature depends on the weather of course but once you’re in the water, you’ll love it. You will have to know how to swim. You’ll be in 30 feet of water pretty quickly. The first year I went, I had to wear swimmies. No, not really but I did have to take swimming lessons since I did not know how to swim at all. Which is very strange thing not to know to a Croat. “You don’t know how to swim? Ti si idiot!” Croats living near the sea grow up in the water and are awesome swimmers even winning Olympic medals in water polo. If you are a beginner swimmer, you’ll be fine as the water is almost always calm. Also the water has magical properties. Yes…magical. I guarantee you will feel better after a few days of swimming in the Croatian Adriatic Sea. Why do you think the Roman rulers in ancient times had their summer palaces in Croatia? Tourists from Germany, Italy, Scandinavia and all over Europe, flock to Croatia in the summer. The water is therapeutic, something to do with the salt and minerals. I actually don’t know why exactly. Google it.
Easy to pay for stuff
It’s so easy to pay for things when travelling to Croatia. You can pay by credit card but it’s great to have cash and pay for many things in the local currency, the Kuna. The exchange rate is about 6 Kuna to 1 US Dollar. Awesome!! Exchange your money at a local bank when you get to Croatia. You will get the best exchange rate and the Croatian bank experience is cool as hell. There is always a guard at the door who looks intimidating and will stare you down but he is really just bored since there is virtually no crime in Croatia. Another reason to love the country! Walk in and go to the kiosk to get a number. You may need help with that if you don’t know the language but the guard or a customer will feel sorry for you and help you if you start looking around frantically. Once you have your number, just wait for that number to display on the sign near the tellers, just like in an American bakery! You may be the only person in the bank but you still need to get a number at the kiosk. The teller will speak perfect English but banking is serious business and the teller will have a stern look on her face. Just say Dobar dan and you’ll be fine. Make sure your cash is crisp new or almost new bills. Croatian banks will not take old dirty or ripped cash, especially if it has any writing on it. Then, the teller will write down every single serial number of the bills your are exchanging. This will take some time so be patient. You are on vacation. Relax. Also get used to waiting in Croatia. Things take time but are worth the wait.
I read tons of articles about tipping in Croatia and have asked lots of Croat friends how much I should tip. I have heard everything from a few leftover coins to a small percent of the bill. Anything you tip will be fine and you’ll never have a waiter follow you out of the restaurant into the parking lot to demand a bigger tip when you leave. But be generous for goodness sake. Tip at least 10%. More is ok too. If all you have is a coffee, then a few coins is ok.
Speaking of coffee, getting a large coffee in Croatia is impossible. Don’t even try. Coffee comes in small cups only. About the size of a shot glass. Get used to it. I feel like Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians when I order coffee in Croatia. This is because drinking coffee in Croatia has nothing to do with drinking coffee. This is a time to talk with friends or read your newspaper if you are alone. This is sad because the coffee is delicious, it’s just not enough! So order 2 or 3 coffees and deal with it. There is no Starbucks and no Dunkin Donuts. You have your coffee in the many fantastic cafes and hotels along the water or main street.
There are many varieties of restaurants to choose from and they all have the same menu. That is not really true but every decent restaurant will have fresh fish and blitva. We judge the restaurant by the quality of their blitva, a delicious swiss chard and potato side dish. There are so many great restaurants to choose from, just visit as many as you can and judge for yourself. You won’t be disappointed especially when you get the bill. You’ll order a bottle of wine, two appetizers, main dishes and desert and the bill will be 245 kuna and you’ll think, “Wow that’s a lot”. Then you’ll remember the exchange rate and say to yourself, “All that for $40? I want to live here!”
You may want to make your own lunch or get a bottle of water for the beach and you will venture into a local food store. The store itself is very similar to any small grocery store in America but different too. (Good luck finding half and half if you make your own coffee in the morning. I still have not figured that out yet). But you’ll find everything else just fine and head over to the cashier to pay for your groceries. You will wait on line to pay, just like in America. But don’t be surprised if people just jump in front of you while you’re waiting in line. It seems lines are really just optional things. It’s more of a free for all. Go with the flow and enjoy the experience as I never know for sure when to jump in front of someone so I just wait my turn. You’ll often hear someone say, “Oprosti”. Croats are polite people.