This time last year, I was walking around my dad’s home town of Sibenik in Croatia. Now I think about it, I wouldn’t mind being back there right now. The cobblestone alleyways and the centuries of history surrounding you, it’s not too hard to get swept up in the sheer magical simplicity of the town. Sibenik is situated on the Dalmatian coast and is north of Split and south of Zadar. Growing up, I’d heard so much about it and couldn’t wait to visit- and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint. Although the best time of year to go is during Summer, it’s still just as beautiful in the winter.
It was great to finally visit dad’s side of the family and catch up with them. It was also great to see where dad grew up, put names to actual people and just be able to walk around and see the differences between life there and back here in Melbourne. One thing I particularly found quite amusing was the abundance of profanity when old friends of dad’s would realise it was him and that he was back visiting. We went to a shoe store to find my brother some new sneakers and it turned out that the guy who worked went to school with dad in the eighties. I also enjoyed hearing all the stories of what him and his friends got up to when they were my age or younger. Not even the language barriers could get in the way of a hilarious story.
After Christmas, we spent four days in Zagreb, which is Croatia’s capital. It’s not a big city, but boy, there was a lot of history I could not wait to see (because I’m a total nerd like that). Whilst my family were more interested in St. Mark’s Church, I was definitely more intrigued by the Hrvatski Sabor (Croatian parliament) right next to it. My mum’s uncle and aunty were basically guides for us as we went through and I learnt so much about the city. I found it interesting that during the Communist era, the government ordered for the windows facing the church to be blocked by bricks so they did not have to look at the religious feature that was the church. Next time I go back to Zagreb, I would love to visit the Drazen Petrovic museum and see Maksimir stadium by day (and perhaps even go to a Dinamo game). Unfortunately, this time round we didn’t have the time to go to either. After the four days, it was back to Sibenik.
Here are some of my favourite moments from the trip:
→ Seeing where Drazen Petrovic grew up and also visiting the memorial in Sibenik
I’m a huge sports fan (if you hadn’t noticed already) so one of the major things I was excited for was getting to see everything and anything related to Petro. I got to visit the memorial in Baldekin as well as the exact location where he played next to his apartment when he was growing up. To say the very least, I fangirled….a lot. I even wore my Nets no.3 jersey and a lot of locals were quite proud to realise that Petrovic was remembered all the way in Australia. There was one day when dad, myself and my brother went to a store that had a heap of different t-shirts and I bought one with Petrovic on it and it turns out the owner of the store knew his mother. He said he would tell her that Australian- Croatians bought the t-shirt and yes, I fangirled some more.
→ Seeing Krapanj
Krapanj is a small island off the coast of Sibenik and it’s where my grandma was born. It’s a picturesque island and I was lucky the weather turned it up the day we went. We had to catch a boat from Brodarica to the island and let’s just say the combination of my cousin, my dad and myself could be a bit troublesome. We managed to walk around the island in an hour but I absolutely loved it. It was quite funny when my other cousin asked me how long it would take to get around Melbourne, suggesting an hour, maybe two. I told him that it would probably take a day to do half the CBD itself. He was quite surprised to be honest. I guess that was a big difference between Sibenik and Melbourne- the sizing. You could walk everywhere in Sibenik- Melbourne? Not so much. Krapanj had its comedic moments. We walked down a narrow pathway and I looked up to find a bulldog (I think it was a bulldog) standing on the roof of a house (as per the photo). Then I looked down and found a CFMEU sticker above a letter box (CFMEU is a construction worker’s union that’s constantly in the headlines in Australia). From that, I dubbed Krapanj “Mini Melbourne”. To top it off, we met my dad’s aunty’s cousin and another Australian guy that worked with him. Hearing him speak with an Australian accent made me feel oddly relieved. I didn’t realise how much I missed hearing someone with a proper Aussie accent.
→ New Year’s Eve
So in Croatia, your pyrotechnics were easy to get a hold of. You literally just walked into a supermarket and voila, you had an entire stand of them just like they were chocolate bars. Mum wasn’t a big fan and it was a bit of a give or take for my brother. Dad and I though? We loved them! I mean, dad had to be careful not to be too excited in front of mum to avoid the death stare but the both of us thought they were really cool. It was definitely a big difference from Melbourne and I’m really missing the sporadic loud bangs here. There was one time when we were walking around the town and someone let one off and it was louder than usual to the point where mum literally jumped. Dad and I both found it amusing though. Before I get onto New Year’s Eve, I just want to mention the time where we almost got the police called on us because one of the firecrackers smoked up much more than we intended it to and one of the neighbours was screeching from her window that she’d call the cops. My two cousins, myself and their dog sprinted back up the stairs as fast as we could and let our dads deal with the consequences. Luckily, the lady realised it was only us and was more interested in catching up with my dad than anything else. Anyway, onto New Year’s Eve. Tonight more than ever were those firecrackers going off. A group of us went to the park next to HNK Sibenik’s football stadium and my uncle and his son set off two fireworks. Whilst we were there, heaps of other people in the neighbourhood were tossing petarde off balconies and igniting fireworks on terraces. It. Was. Amazing. I mean, dad was like “oh yeah, it reminds me of the war” which got me thinking how many ex-soldiers hated that time of the year due to their PTSD. Nevertheless, once it hit midnight, I have to say that the fireworks and atmosphere in Sibenik was literally the best I have ever experienced. We stood on my baka’s balcony and watched as fireworks exploded all over the town- from the town square to all the terraces. It’s definitely an experience you wouldn’t find in Melbourne. I was speechless and just entranced by how wicked it was.
Now you’ve probably heard about Krka (those really pretty waterfalls that Croatia is pretty much renowned for) and may have heard about Skradin. Apparently, a tonne of billionaires like Bill Gates love going to Skradin in the summer. Anyway, one Saturday my uncle, aunty, my two cousins and I headed to Krka and Skradin for a day out. It was an overcast day but that did not take away the beauty of what I saw. I could only imagine how amazing it would be in summer. The waterfalls were stunning and it didn’t disappoint at all. Driving between Krka and Skradin, we went through a number of towns that were significant in the war, likely due to their connection between Knin, Sibenik and other seaside towns. This is something I found particularly intriguing because again, history buff right here and even more so because I had direct connections to it. I was particularly psyched to drive through Cavoglave but more on that later. First, Skradin. Like Krka, Skradin was gorgeous. The national park was beautiful, although I have to say I wasn’t exactly wearing the best attire for climbing that many stairs. The view was worth it though. My uncle was pleased, although us kids were kind of straggling along. Even my overly energetic cousin was lagging behind me. Once we got down the stairs and were following my uncle and aunty, we resorted to singing random songs like Umirem 100x Dnevno to distract us from how exhausted we were. If anyone was considering going to either Krka or Skradin- GO. Don’t hesitate- just go. Anyway, onto Visovac. Visovac is a tiny island with a Franciscan monk monastery on it. The towns nearby all were quite populated with former soldiers from the war and you could tell because A. Many of the men there were wearing their military jackets or clothing with defence force insignia on it and B. There were a fair share of military posters and signs around. There’s a lookout on top of a hill where you can see Visovac from. Next to it, there’s a cross with a rosary bead on it and also a statue of Petar Svacic who I think was the last king of Croatia. Looking out of the monastery, it was oddly…soothing. It was like you knew you were looking out over history which to me was incredibly special. Alright, now back to Cavoglave. During the war, a song called Bojna Cavoglave was released and it ended up becoming a bit of a patriotic war cry for Croatians. It was only natural that when we drove through Cavoglave we would start singing it and I ended up blasting it from my phone. Next time I go back, I would love to go to Knin to see where Tudjman, Gotovina and others stood after Operation Storm. Because you know, I’m a history buff like that (and to be fair, Operation Storm was basically on my birthday).
→ Solaris and some other family property
On another day, we went to Solaris which was a famous resort in Sibenik. Let me tell you- the weather seriously turned it up for us. If I didn’t tell you that we were in the middle of winter, I’m pretty sure you would have thought it was the middle of summer instead. Although we did have a little bit of a hiccup at the beginning (thanks dad for settling the situation before the cops got called on us…again- I swear I’m not problematic!). Now I wrote that, I’ve realised that we faced threats of having the cops called on us…Only I. Only I… Anyway, once we got in, we walked to the coastline and it was absolutely stunning. I have no words for it. The photos say it all. Again, I’d love to go back there in the summer time and just chill on the beach there. After Solaris, we went to a property which honestly, I have no idea whose it was or where it was- it was just really pretty. There was a massive lake and because it was quite warm, my cousin decided to stand in the water. I would have joined him if only my jeans weren’t so tight and I could roll them up properly. Anyway, the funniest moment where was probably when my uncle told my brother to lift his hand out and of course, my brother did and my uncle told him he had a rock to give him. Yeah, a rock- more like some sort of crab. I may or may not have squealed and jumped back a few metres- my brother though. My goodness, his reaction was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. He started screaming and sprinted faster than I’d ever seen him run in the opposite direction. On top of that, we were standing on rocks so it wasn’t a flat surface either and he ran along them as though he was on a flat surface. The things you do when you’re terrified.
→ The artwork and history
Something I particularly loved about Sibenik and Zagreb was the street art and the history it represented. Especially in Sibenik, there were heaps of murals painted on walls depicting several things. They’d either be related to football, the war or other sports like basketball. Driving to Split, we would see heaps of Hajduk Split logos or the face of the rebel with a bandana covering his nose and mouth painted on the side of walls and fences and even on the side of roads. I’d usually stop and take a moment to look at the artwork, even if it was just a bit of graffiti because generally, they’d always have a deeper meaning to it. I found this incredibly authentic and added to the beauty of the place. To someone not familiar to Croatian history, they’d probably just be like that’s nice but wouldn’t really appreciate the meaning behind the art. However, as someone with Croatian heritage and a significant understanding of the history, I cannot even begin to express the appreciation I had for what I saw.
So these were only a couple of my favourite things from my trip to Croatia in December ‘15/January ‘16. I hope you enjoyed it and let me know what you think in the comments below.