Croatia is quickly becoming a travel hotspot, and with good reason. I enjoyed every moment of my travels through this former Communist country and was just as surprised by what I discovered there. If you’re planning a trip, there are however a few things you should know if you want to be a better informed traveler and maybe even impress the locals.
1. More than Dubrovnik – This coastal city is the most popular tourist spot in Croatia, welcoming millions of people from cruises and via land every year. It’s one of the few places most Americans can readily name and sadly is usually all we know about the country. But there is so much diversity found around the country that while Dubrovnik should absolutely be visited, so should the other cities of Croatia. Zadar, Zagreb, Split, the islands, Istria, Plitvice, all of these and more must be on your travel itinerary.
2. Tesla – Arguably the greatest genius of the 20th century, and the most underrated, Nikola Tesla was born in modern-day Croatia. While he was born of Serbian parents, Tesla is celebrated around the country, from statues to events in his honor. Why? Because he was amazing, as in he might have been an extraterrestrial amazing. He developed the alternating current method of delivering electricity (AC) and power generation systems by which almost all electrical power is still delivered today. Tesla developed the processes that led to the radio as well as other forms of wireless delivery. Neon and fluorescent lighting are all his, as are radar, faxes and countless other ideas far, far, far ahead of his time. He was amazing, he is practically unknown today and Croatia seems alone in recognizing the fact that without him, the modern life we all enjoy today wouldn’t be possible.
3. Great food – I’ve written about this before, but I was honestly shocked by the quality of food in Croatia. Like so many, I had some incredibly misinformed notions about Croatia, and chief among them was that I would find bland, boiled food. Not so! Croatia has a long and proud culinary tradition drawing upon its own natural resources, as well as influences from Italy and across the Mediterranean. The cuisine varies widely, from heavier meat based dishes in the countryside to delicious Italian meals along the coasts. No matter what you decide to try though, I think you’ll be just as surprised as I was by how impressive Croatia’s culinary offerings are.
4. Invented the tie – This is just a fun little fact I thought I’d share, as it turns out Croatia invented the necktie. During the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century, the traditional small, knotted neckerchiefs worn by Croatian mercenaries aroused the interest of Parisians who for some reason immediately took to the new fashion accessory. The term for this new trend comes from a commingling of words for Croatians, the French and the Croatian to form the word cravat. Later French aristocracy took an interest in the tie, which of course meant everyone else did as well. Just a random fact, use it as you will.
5. Zagreb is great – It wasn’t until after a colleague congratulated me on mentioning how nice Zagreb is that I understood fully how often people ignore Croatia’s capital. Sure, it may not be as pretty as Dubrovnik or offer the stunning sunsets of Zadar, but Zagreb is a must-include city on your tour of the country. I found the city to be lively and fun, with lots of great restaurants and plenty of sites to keep me busy for days. For a quirky experience, stop by the Museum of Broken Relationships, a touching tribute to love lost. For something a little more uplifting, spend your evening on Tkalciceva street, a pedestrian zone overflowing with cafes, restaurants and bars.
6. In the EU but not on the Euro – On July 1, 2013 Croatia officially joined the European Union, however that is not the same thing as adopting the common currency known as the Euro. The EU is a supranational organization that sets policies along a wide set of issues, from trade to human rights. There are innumerable benefits for nations who choose to seek accession to the group, but not all aspects fall into place at once or even at all. If Croatia wants to join the European Monetary System, they will have go through another approvals process that will take years. EU nations don’t have to participate though, the United Kingdom is perhaps the best example of an opt-out nation. So when you visit leave the Euros at home and instead pick up some kunas, the official currency of Croatia.
7. There’s no war – I can’t believe how many otherwise intelligent people have expressed concerns to me about visiting Croatia because of the war. You know, the one that ended in 1995. Almost 20 years ago. These same people don’t seem mind traveling to Vietnam or Germany, and the same logic should apply. Did Croatia suffer a violent war of independence in the early-mid 1990s? Yes, they did and around the country you can still see the scars of this bitter conflict. But that war is long since over and the only dangerous thing about traveling in Croatia is eating too much Pag cheese. So get over it, the war is over, Croatia is safe and you should go there.