Thursday, January 26, 2006

Croatia Online - The Living is Easy?

Yes and No! Certainly the Dalmatian Coast has a laid back pace and feel to it, the scenery is spectacular and you are never far away from a quiet bay, but like anywhere else there are drawbacks. Here are five of the best and five of the worst features of day to day living, based on our experiences, over three years, in Trogir and Kastel. I’ll be expanding on some of them in future postings.

The Best

1. The Coastline
It will take you a very long time to discover all of Croatia’s secrets but almost everywhere the water is still crystal clear and the scenery spectacular. Let’s hope the increase in tourism doesn’t cause unwanted changes to this but more of that in a later posting.

2. The People
Dalmatia is one big village. Although a percentage of the population have gone abroad for work, on the whole, families tend to stay together and most of the locals can tell where someone comes from by their surname. The Dalmatian attitude to foreigners is helpful but reserved. If you want help, you’ll get it, but you won’t be greeted by overt curiosity. English is the first foreign language taught in schools but German is more prevalent amongst those over 50 as the Germans have been having their holidays here for years. The village culture, where everyone knows each other’s business, makes it a very safe place. It’s one of the few places in the world where you could leave your wallet in a busy outdoor restaurant and expect to pick it up intact the next day.

3. Food and Drink
Although eating out is a fairly predictable experience of grilled fish or meat (see previous article) the raw materials are hard to beat. We found the flavour and colour of Croatian tomatoes and eggs particularly outstanding in contrast to the bland, EU produced, equivalents. If as I do, you come from a large town in England, you will relearn the seasonality of fruit and vegetables as you watch the smallholders harvest one delicious crop after another and set up their wheelbarrow on the main road.

4. The Cost of Living
Croatia is not as cheap as, say, Rumania or Bulgaria, but you get an awful lot more for your money here than in England. It’s a smokers’ paradise at £1.30 a packet, and white goods and furniture are also very good value, with an ever increasing number of overstocked retail centres.

5. Unspoilt – so far!
Tourist offers are still fairly basic and the treasures are still mostly hidden so it’s a continual voyage of discovery. There are a few exceptions, mostly in the traditional, Yugoslavian style, package holiday resorts favoured by the eastern European tourists. That will change.

The Worst

1. The Bureaucracy
The simplest things can be a nightmare to achieve. The rules and regulations are changing quickly, within a heavily centralised, ex communist, administrative framework and it’s difficult to get a definitive answer on anything. More commonly you’ll find three different people who have achieved something in three different ways. We have friends who have gone through the hoop trying to bring their furniture in, we’ve heard plenty of horror stories about buying property, and the process of extending a stay for more than three months is a voyage into the unknown for the authorities and the applicants alike. It’s best just to keep your head down, as the locals do. Once you get into the system be prepared for a deluge of forms, stamps and legal fees.

2. The Language
Remember your brief encounters with Latin at school? If you try and learn Croatian you will wish you had been more diligent or taken on Russian instead of German or French. The good news is that the pronunciation is consistent. The bad news is that there is a multitude of different endings, depending on the seven cases, the three genders and singular and plural. Even proper names change endings. You’ll also be faced with some very long words with very few vowels. You can get by without it but if you want to integrate, you need to dig out your old grammar books and find a teacher.

3. The Roads
Croatia requires a whole different style of driving and an adventurous spirit. The first motorway, between Split and Zagreb, is now open and makes a big difference, but the main coast road is full of hairpin bends, steep drops and single carriageway. Many of the local roads have open drainage ditches, inches from the side, which just look like big puddles when it rains hard, and cat’s eyes are unheard of. You need to relearn your overtaking skills and develop the Croatian ability to see round blind corners. Measures are slowly being taken to improve road safety but stay alert.

4. “The Season”
Anywhere along the coast, living conditions change dramatically when the short summer season arrives. The standard trip from Ciovo island, through Trogir to the coast road takes an hour instead of five minutes, the beaches are packed, you can’t get a table in your favourite local restaurant and seasonal bars and restaurants pop up from nowhere. There is a certain buzz to it all but we prefer to escape in August, either inland, or out on our boat. “The Season” has other frustrations – it stops as abruptly as it starts. We explored the islands of Pasman and Ugljan in the first week of September. The weather was great, the sea was warm but not one single restaurant was open for lunch.

5. New Buildings
Everyone seems to be building an apartment to let to the tourists, wherever they can find a spare plot of land. Many of them are unfinished, waiting for the next bit of seasonal funding to materialise. The government are trying to crack down on properties built without the appropriate planning permission and have introduced new legislation to stop any further building right by the sea. However, there are some newly built monstrosities around while beautiful old stone houses, probably owned by Serbs or Bosnians that fled during the war, fall into disrepair.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having visited Croatia only once last year this is a very useful snapshot. It also explains some of the curiosites encontered. I am visiting again this year and will now be much better informed.

1:04 pm  

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