Croatia

by Paulina Farro


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   Weary from the long travel time, during the drive into Split I only saw snippets of the scenery outside the bus window in between sleepy head bobs. A glimpse of front yards covered in winding grapevines brought me to a lucid thought of the extra extra tart grapes that used to grow in our backyard when I was little, and how I would pick them long before they were ready. My lips puckered at the thought of it before another violent head bob came to take me under again.  Some time later, my bus neighbor shook me lightly when the buscame to a screeching halt and I wasn't getting up. Stumbling off with only one eye open I was met with…torrential downpour. Not a light sprinkling of rain but a grey, gloomy, get in your eyeballs so you can’t even see kind of rain. I did consider the weather before I left, but a thirty percent chance of rain, to me, is a seventy percent chance of clear skies, and I like those odds. Through my raindrop blurred vision- I saw not one cab. After waiting inside a cafe for the rain to die down, a mixture of impatience, stubbornness, exhaustion, and fear that it would rain well into the night (it did) convinced me that walking to my hotel with nothing but a hooded jacket wouldn’t be so bad. I got very lost along the way, and was met by the kindness of a man smoking a cigarette outside a hotel; he must have witnessed me being rejected by a cab driver. He asked where I was going and ran inside to print a map for me.

A dripping, drowned sewer rat looking person clutching a soggy map was so hysterical to the girl working the front desk at my hotel that it broke the ice for conversations we would have over coffee during the trip. How to make friends in other countries: decide to walk for over an hour in the rain, look ridiculous, still have an ear to ear smile as you squish, squish, squish your way to the front desk with your suitcase full of (now damp) clothes because! You finally made it! When the first thing she said to me was, "I see you're from California, maybe you should have stayed there where there is no rain" I knew we would get along. 


 Split, which is part of the Dalmatian region of Croatia, is rich with seafood, pasta, risotto, gelato,  cheese, honey, gelato!, olive oil (the snack they give you on the airplane on Croatia airlines is cheese swimming in Olive oil, my kind of people)  and lots and lots of wine. Croatia and Italy are  separated only by the Adriatic, so it makes sense that there would be some similarities. Wine isn't exported to the US as much as other countries such as Italy or France; clearly I tried as many as possible while I could easily get them. Croatian wine is very good wine, and it's relatively inexpensive wine.  Seafood was involved in nearly every meal, so I pretty much drank white wine instead of water the entire trip. I'm no wine expert, so I always asked the server to give me the best they had, and a lot of the time it was a Bibich wine, made with Debit grapes.


After gorging myself on pretty much anything that came from the ocean for several days, I didn't want to see a piece of squid or anything that had a shell on the ocean floor as a home for a good long while. I even had an Alice in Wonderland type dream of giant shrimp peels and cuttlefish dancing in circles around me on my last night there. I decided to turn this terrifying dream into inspiration for my illustrations (which are really more mixed media pieces this time around)


 

Bacvice beach, where you can enter the ocean water much like you enter a pool.

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Trg Brace Radic market in Split is located just before the entrance to Old Town and you can pass through it on your way to Diocletian's palace. Vendors coaxed me over to their stalls by dangling their fruits and insisting I try them. I left the market with a purse full of dried figs, honey, candied lemon peels, and cheese. 

 

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  Unsure what these were but intrigued by their colors, I wandered over to the stall. They kind of tasted like smaller, overripe plums and the vendor kept pointing to his belly, I think to say they were either good or bad for it. (If anyone knows what they are please let me know in the comments!)

It's the time of year for big, juicy grapes. 

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     Plitvice lakes is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the largest national parks in Southeast Europe. The boardwalks wind you through the lakes so you can view the many waterfalls. It was foggy during the first few hours of the walk, which made for some eerie yet gorgeous photos. We were all pretty worried we wouldn't get to see the view of all the lakes from the top at the end.

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     Incredibly, the thick fog burned off and the azure lakes could be seen from above, along with the little tiny ant people walking along the boardwalks.

     Colorful honey hives spotted along the long drive from Split to Plitvice lakes.

     Plitvice lakes was a good four hours from Split, right next to the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We stopped at a mountain restaurant on the way back and right away I could see that mountain food was very different from the coastal food of Split. Peppers stuffed with meat, a heaping glob of potatoes, and a savory sauce helped warm us up after our wet and cold hike.

     No joke, this bear and its two bear family members were just chillin out back behind the restaurant.

     If the weather is good, you can find cheese and honey stands dotted along the side of the road to Plitvice. You don't even need to know Croatian- just the response to "goat or cow?" 

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     Old town Split is just small enough to where you can wander around the cobblestones alleyways without minding one bit that you are very lost.

     The most gorgeous location for a gelato shop, right next to Diocletian's palace.

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Gelato shops every few hundred feet.

     Grilled octopus from  UJE OIL BAR , where you can also order an olive oil tasting of several different varieties.

     Fritule is a fried croatian oughnut which, depending on the recipe, has brandy, potatoes, or yogurt in the dough. 

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     The best bartender in all of Split, or maybe the world.

     Cuttlefish Risotto from BUFFET FIFE, a popular  waterfront seafood restaurant where upon arrival the owner will ask you if you're willing to join a table with strangers. I watched these exchanges for a good hour and saw that everyone hestitates. Eventually, you have no choice and she will throw the menus down in a way that says well, are you hungry or not? Hungry enough to share a table with strangers? Those who agree end up making friends with their neighbors, asking what they ordered, and gulping down wine to soothe the awkwardness.  A food based social experiment plus affordable and tasty seafood dishes made it hard for me to not return a few more times.

     Cuttlefish risotto is a local specialty in Split and you have to really, really, REALLY enjoy the taste of the ocean to enjoy this dish. It gets its black color from the ink of the cuttlefish and the flavor seems to punch you in the face with its intensity.

     There is a seafood market open every morning in Old Town split, and to a seafood restaurant across the way from a seafood market is always a good idea.

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     Crotian Burek is a savory pastry made of phyllo dough stuffed with meats, cheese (like this feta one pictured here), or vegetables. I'm currently in the process of testing several different burek recipes because it was the best thing I ate the entire trip. Just look at that flaky, buttery dough! 

     To say the Istria region of Croatia is truffle obsessed would be an understatement; in some villages truffle hunting dogs can outnumber people. Pigs can also be used to hunt truffles, but truffle hunting Brek dogshave become the more popular choice for those that want to keep their fingers from being bitten off by crazed pigs (they aren't just an aphrodisiac for humans).  Truffles grow underground and therefore cannot be detected by the human nose, and tours where you spend an hour or so in the forest with truffle hunters and their Breks can be booked at a number of different companies, usually either starting or ending with a truffle- themed feast. Ours started with a lovely breakfast of velvety scrambled eggs topped with a generous layering of tissue thin truffle slices. Then we went out into the forest, where it was quite an adrenaline rush once the dogs found some, started digging furiously, and we had to get to the truffles before the dogs ate them. I kind of wanted to let them, I mean, I felt like they deserved it after doing all the work. I have to say I will probably never go near truffle oil ever again after eating the real thing. I know, that's kind of an uppity and snobby thing to say but what I mean is the overpowering, slightly sickening oil that has been trendy to drizzle on pizza and fries in the US to fresh truffles is kind of like saying Tang is the same thing as fresh squeezed orange juice, though both can be enjoyable in their own way.

    The spoils from my truffle hunting adventure. I went on a tour through an amazing family run company called Karlic Tartufi and you can find more information HERE.

Hopefully I can return someday and explore more of this beautiful country.

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