For foreigners, it can sometimes be hard to keep in mind that a big majority (about 70%) of Croats do not live near the coast (in Croatian: obala). For them, the experience of strolling by the sea, eating fresh seafood, sunbathing and swimming can be as rare an experience as to citizens of landlocked countries. Yes, some Croats are lucky enough to have vacation homes at the seaside. However, most continental Croats are restricted by their budget and the number of days of annual leave they have.
For example, as Eurostat’s survey has shown in 2016, only 44 % of Croatians older than 15 went on a trip that lasted longer than one day (it includes staying in hotels, but also staying with their family, i.e. accommodation that is both free and requires payment). Having in mind that the median monthly salary in Croatia (for January 2018 according to Državni zavod za statistiku) was 690 euros (the average pension is 300 euros) and the price of an average rental apartment at the Croatian seaside is 80 euros per night, it becomes obvious why for many Croats going to the seaside is not something they can easily afford. Now that we have dealt with the grimmer side of the story, we can join the Croats at their well-deserved holidays and see what this experience usually entails.
Although describing a six or eight-hour drive as long might seem funny to people from vast countries, to us it is something we don’t do very often. Also, we tend to be very keen on beating the traffic and avoiding the heat of summer days. Therefore, we set off very early, which gives us enough time to enjoy the stops and take older roads to avoid paying for expensive motorways. These older roads have an additional lure – roasted lamb. There are small restaurants in even smaller villages which roast lamb on the spit, which is a perfect way to ease into the holiday spirit. Tradition dictates that you have to stop to have some on your way to or from the seaside.
By Croatian tragedies
One of Croatian ”tragedies” – ”I have had a fight with a friend who has a vacation home in Crikvenica”.
If you have friends who either live at the seaside or have a vacation home there, you have a place to spend summer holidays for free, so it’s always a good idea to avoid fights with them before summer.
Once we finally arrive, we have to face the mountain of stuff we packed. People have probably warned us against the criminally expensive supermarkets and restaurants – at the seaside kunas simply do not stretch as far as in other parts of Croatia. The solution is quite simple – you have to bring the food from home. In addition to food, there is quite a big number of necessary beach (in Croatian: plaža) paraphernalia – picnic coolers, everything that comes in the inflatable form, water guns, beach toys – anything that will help us get sunburned.
Since more than two-thirds of traveling Croats stay with family and friends who have houses at the seaside, and many of the remaining one-third travel in groups, a seaside holiday tends to be a very social affair. Instead of going to expensive restaurants, homemade barbecue (in Croatian: roštilj) is the main gourmand event. And it isn’t a consolation prize for those less affluent – Croatian barbecue is a special feast. Ćevapi (small cylindrical pieces of ground meat), burger patties, pork chops, sausages grilled over the real fire and marinated with garlic, oil and parsley present culinary heaven for Croatian meat lovers.
Instead of partying in expensive clubs, many Croats will drink beer (in Croatian: pivo) and wine with their friends on the terraces and in the gardens of their holiday rentals (the younger ones might choose to have their drinks at the beach) and play cards. Playing cards is a very important social activity in any situation. The most popular one in continental Croatia is probably belot (mostly called bela in Croatia), similar to the French card game belote, but in countries of former Yugoslavia, it’s played with German-style cards (picture below). Among kids (and adults forced to participate) the card game Uno is very popular and can be seen played a lot at Croatian beaches.
Another popular evening activity is going for a walk along the seafront. Most Croatian coastal towns have long cobbled paths you can take along the shore. They are usually quite picturesque. There are striking sunsets (in Croatian: zalasci sunca), old charming houses, little lagoons, pine trees, luxurious yachts and old-fashioned fishing boats. Also, it’s an affordable pleasure for those on a budget – the biggest cost might be a few scoops of ice cream or a few cobs of boiled sweet corn.
Although evening activities are important, going to the beach is certainly the main reason for coming to the seaside, so we spend there as much time as possible. While parents enjoy lying in the sun, children usually can’t be easily persuaded to leave the water. While snorkeling masks, water guns and swim floats seem to be part of standard equipment (which children are alarmingly shifty about – mothers are in the perpetual state of bringing the toys back and forth), most entertaining games require only children’s body weight. Popular ‘gnjurenje’ (prank which consists of submerging someone’s head underwater) is one of the chief ways of making Croatian children tougher. It’s usually equally fun when you surprise someone, so they don’t have time to shut their eyes and nose, and when you state your plans openly and see their dread rising.
Another great fun (for both children and adults) is prskanje (splashing). Although the Adriatic Sea is comfortably warm once you get in the water, it is not warm enough to easily wade in without feeling the coldness rising. Adults usually ‘’solve’’ this problem by slowly entering, centimetre by centimetre, trying to prepare their bodies by gently splashing themselves with water. However ‘don’t splash me!’ (nemoj me prskati!), which is the command usually directed at children and partners, is the best way to ensure you will get wet more quickly.
Although adults do swim as well, they mostly enjoy sunbathing. Being tan is fashionable here, so you can count on your colleagues and friends evaluating your skin tone critically once you come back from holidays. ‘Did you go to the beach at all? As if you hadn’t been to the seaside!’’ they might comment if you didn’t get tanned enough. It also means we are not as reasonable with the danger which the sun poses, so beaches certainly don’t get deserted at midday.
Being at the beach also calls for beach reads. On average, Croats are not great readers. In a year, 50% of us don’t read even one book, and among those who do, four books is a yearly average. Sunbathing is therefore for many the only occasion for reading. At the moment, Croatians are in love with Scandinavian thrillers – out of five most read books in 2016, four were thrillers from Scandinavia. Although they might seem like a bit grim genre for the beach, the bright Croatian summer gives them a lighter tone.
Although there are Croatians affluent enough to enjoy the luxuries which the Croatian coast offers, they are mostly reserved for foreigners. The majority of Croatians who do visit the seaside simply use their holidays to enjoy the (still mostly free) beaches, the sea, the sun, promenades and the company of friends and family. But in the end – isn’t that the truly authentic experience of real hospitality and the locals’ way of living?